Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Who Really Wants to Die...

The debate over Euthanasia has once again reemerged after author Terry Pratchett's recent BBC2 Documentary entitled 'Choosing to Die'. The program examines the depressing and debilitating nature of the diseases and illnesses that affect British people and people all over the World today.

Perhaps more importantly, Pratchett considers the morality of assisted suicide and whether it should become a legislated practice in the United Kingdom.

Those of you who saw my Facebook status yesterday evening will know that I have a rather forthright position on the matter of assisted suicide and euthanasia. I support this treatment. I strongly believe that showing someone the compassion and love of relieving them from pain, fear and suffering is the one of the kindest human acts. A person interviewed on the program quite rightly said "You would not let you dog, or your cat suffer in pain, so why do we do it to each other?"
However, there is a reason for why these matters are so controversial. Life after all, is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Life is truly sacred. So why do these people want to die?

I personally have never considered the act of suicide. Yet, I can understand why many people who suffer from these terrible afflictions wish to alleviate themselves from the undignified suffering and upset that comes with their diseases.

It honestly quite upsets me to think that my life, and the lives of my friends and family might end in an ashamed and painful manner, when we have the power to show love and kindness by allowing the people close to us to die in a dignified way.

However, there are those who are not afflicted with any terminal or debilitating illnesses who desire assisted suicide. Depression afflicts 1/3 people in the UK at some point in their lives, yet I strongly believe that it is curable. This is why cases of people desiring assisted suicide should be dealt with individually. Although I am not religious,  I, like many people of faith believe that life is a sacred thing.

However, so is death. Death does not have to be drab and depressing. Death can be an occasion just as joyous as experiences in life. After all, when the curtain falls we all want to go out singing.

Pratchett's documentary provided a formidable insight into the processes and practice of assisted suicide. Pratchett followed the stories of two men, Peter Smedley aged 71 and Andrew Colgan, 42. Both men had travelled to Switzerland to die. Andrew and Peter were afflicted with diseases that affected the nervous systems and that would eventually lead to the shut down of their bodies in a painful and undignified way.

I must say here that I have never been more moved by a television program. Both Andrew and Peter showed the greatest courage and bravery in their personal decisions to terminate their lives.
Some argued that both Peter and Andrew chose to die prematurely. It is true that these gentlemen were still able to communicate well and even enact certain tasks for themselves. However, who is to say that these people did not have the right to die? It is their lives, and in your life you make your own decisions, good and bad. Whether you wish to fight to the bitter end, or to leave this Earth slightly early, it is your right and should be the right of citizens all over the world to make a choice of life, or death.

Perhaps the most moving part of the whole documentary was the moment in which Peter allowed us to witness him consuming the drugs that would save him from fear and suffering. By doing this, Peter showed people that he had made peace with he decision to die. What a brave man.

I was quite literally moved to tears. To see a person liberated from fear is a truly beautiful thing. Peter sat peacefully with his hand in his wife's as he gradually drifted to sleep.
If one considers the manner in which Peter and Andrew would have died had they not gone to 'Dignitas', it draws an emotive contrast into how death does not have to be undignified.

I do wish that someday in the near future we will see legislation in Britain that provides the care and facilities for those calling for assisted suicide. However, any such legislation must means test individual cases. The concerns of many people for elderly relatives choosing assisted suicide to prevent them from 'burdening' family are legitimate.

Pratchett's documentary showed that this is well enforced in Switzerland and it is ensured that the decision of these people to die is their own.

We have the power to alleviate suffering so why do we allow people to continue to live in a shameful and agonizing way? The love and care shown by the people at 'Dignitas' displayed that the alleviation of suffering is a truly beautiful thing.

Peter Smedley 1939 - 2010
Andrew Colgan 1968 - 2010

I'd like to dedicate this great song to Andrew and Peter

You can see the BBC Documentary here: Terry Pratchett - Choosing to Die


  1. Great post Ollie, it really was a very moving program. I am in favour of assisted suicide though it does seem from the program that the situation in Switzerland does allow for those who are not terminally ill to be assisted. This seems to put doctors in a very tricky situation indeed. I'm also struck by the difficulty of Terry Pratchett's situation whereby he may not be able to be lucid enough to be considered by the time he actually wants to go - a terrible catch 22.

  2. Thank you Fiona :)
    Yes, there was some kind ambiguity surrounding the expression "those who have come to experience a weariness of life"
    However, from what i saw of the processes that Peter had to go through for Dignitas to fulfill his wishes, it looks like a very precise process.

    I think Terry's situation defiantly concerned him and i do wonder if he will choose to go before his mind fades.
    Thank you for reading :)