Terry Pratchett planning future suicide?


As many of y’all are probably aware, Terry Pratchett, creator of the extremely popular “Discworld” series of humorous fantasy novels, has a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. While he’s said he’s trying to keep an optimistic attitude and is trying to finish a few more books, he’s also not under any illusions about his chances. And so he’s planning on trying to take his way out early, and before he or his family suffers too greatly.

Pratchett isn’t a big fan of the term “assisted suicide” — but ultimately, that’s what he’s planning. Suicide, with the assistance of loved ones, or ideally, a doctor. This is a controversial issue in England, just as it is here in America. A recent poll in Britain showed that about 75% of people there approve of allowing the terminally ill to decide that they don’t want to go on any more, but Parliament also voted down a measure to allow assisted suicide. About a hundred Britons have traveled to clinics in Switzerland where they can legally end their lives, and England’s Director of Public Prosecutions may soon set down some guidelines that would exempt “those who do not have selfish motives” from prosecution for helping someone commit suicide.

The medical community is also split on the issue — the Hippocratic Oath instructs physicians to “do no harm,” which is something doctors take very seriously… but at the same time, other doctors feel that forcing patients to suffer under incurable, fatal, and untreatable illnesses is a form of harm all its own.

I gotta say, I agree with Pratchett on this. We’ll take our dogs and cats to the veterinarian when they’re ill and dying, and put them to sleep, so they don’t suffer any more. If we’re willing to extend that mercy to our pets, why shouldn’t we be willing to extend it to humans? When there’s no further hope for treatment or recovery, what do we gain by making the terminally ill suffer when they want to move on?

I’m gonna recommend y’all go read the full article — it’s quite long but very good. Besides the actual article, it also includes a lengthy statement by Pratchett laying out his case for assisted suicide. Much, much too long to reprint, but I’ll throw in an excerpt:

I have met Alzheimer’s sufferers who are hoping that another illness takes them away first. Little old ladies confide in me, saying: ‘I’ve been saving up my pills for the end, dear.’

What they are doing, in fact, is buying themselves a feeling of control. I have met retired nurses who have made their own provisions for the future with rather more knowledgeable deliberation.

From personal experience, I believe the recent poll reflects the views of the people in this country. They don’t dread death; it’s what happens beforehand that worries them.

Life is easy and cheap to make. But the things we add to it, such as pride, self-respect and human dignity, are worthy of preservation, too, and these can be lost in a fetish for life at any cost.

I believe that if the burden gets too great, those who wish to should be allowed to be shown the door.

In my case, in the fullness of time, I hope it will be the one to the garden under an English sky. Or, if wet, the library.

It’s really kind of a depressing article. Terry Pratchett and the Discworld novels have been a big part of my life — a big part of lots of peoples’ lives, geeks and non-geeks alike. I hate to think of him dying, but I also hate to think of him suffering. Heck, I hate to think about him having to contemplate suffering or dying as something other than an excuse to have Death show up in his novels, intone something grave but funny, and slip on a patch of ice. But it will happen to all of us eventually, one way or another, and that alone should awaken our sense of compassion.

But again, please go read the whole thing.

No Comments

  1. Kenny Ketner Said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    Assisted suicide is a difficult issue, and it will get a lot more attention now that Terry Pratchett is writing about it.

  2. Sado Said,

    August 11, 2009 @ 10:38 am

    I worked as a vet tech in my early college years. After seeing several animals being put to sleep, and seeing how we treat sick and dying humans, we should at least give the terminally ill the option of assisted suicide.

    That said, Alzheimers is such a mysterious ailment. One person may go into dementia, while another may…become someone else entirely. My great aunt, for instance, thinks she’s 12 and is as sweet as can be. She’s lived that way for some time, and she doesn’t seem to be doing badly just yet.

    I’m with Kenny. I hope assisted suicide gets more attention.

  3. James Wilhite Said,

    August 15, 2009 @ 7:14 am

    yall need to get saved

  4. Scott Slemmons Said,

    August 15, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    Yeahhh, I’ll get right on that.