Terry Pratchett really got me this week.
Maybe I’m just too young, but watching him speak personally and emotionally, yet so pragmatically, about legalising assisted death in the Dimbleby lecture clutched my guts.
As a country we seem pretty confused over what we think about the issue. On the one hand we have a mother committed of murder and cries to protect the vulnerable, on the other we have Debbie Purdy, Dignitas and a mother let off.
Sir Pratchett spoke about watching his father die, his own “slow moving car crash” into Alzheimer’s and how knowing that he could end his life when he wanted would make “every day as precious as a million pounds”. He wants a tribunal system whereby “the facts” could be sorted before death, and people could come away with assurance that friends or relatives which assisted them would not be prosecuted. He was reasonable and practical and very convincing.
The only other time I’ve felt confronted with assisted death like this was in the Science Museum. If you walk into the ‘making the modern world’ gallery from the back of the museum there’s a small display just on the right, tucked next to the frame of the door. It contains one of the few commercial machines made for assisted death. Inside a large suitcase is a computer, attached to this a wire and tube complex, finally ending in a small syringe and needle. You would insert the needle and then the computer would take you through a series of questions. If satisfied with your answers, it would release a deadly dose through the needle.
Introducing the lecture, Sir Pratchett said he was “here to talk about death” and talked about the casual off-handedness with which people avoided the subject. But it looks like talking about death is something we’ll have to do a lot more of.