Terry Pratchett: Choosing to die

I rarely post non-technical stuff on this blog. When I do, you can be sure it is something really worth it.

The documentary below this text is touching and sad in a strange way. It spooked through my mind for several days after watching it. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are feeling down at the moment.

Terry Pratchett (yes, Discworld-Terry Pratchett) explores a rather difficult subject: medically assisted death. Having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, Terry considers how he might choose to end his life as his condition progresses. In this moving documentary he meets those who, like him, would like to control the way they die including a men suffering from degenerative conditions and he is with a British motor neurone sufferer as he carries out an assisted death at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

( source: http://documentary.net/terry-pratchett-choosing-to-die-medically-assisted-death/)


  1. Tammy Bittler November 29, 2011

    I am fortunate to live in one of the few states in the U.S.A. that has both incredible hospice care and legal medically assisted suicide. So many of the fears and concerns people have had in relation to the assisted suicide have been eased with the passing of time and experience. Unlike Switzerland, “weariness of life” is not a legally accepted reason for medically assisted suicide. Protections are in place to help people suffering from depression to get help so that life seems more hopeful. Medically assisted suicide is for those people with debilitating, incurable illnesses,in right mind. One consequence of having medically assisted suicide legalized here in Oregon is that we as a community started looking at the reasons behind wanting to be able to choose the time of one’s death. The answers were all based around fear. Fear of pain, loss of dignity, becoming a burden to a loved one, fear of losing control, or one’s quality of life. These answers eventually helped reshape end-of-life care in all areas: hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, and hospice. By making medically assisted suicide legal, other choices were improved. The number of people who choose the assisted suicide is a lot smaller than anticipated, but I am relieved that the choice is there; and those who choose it do not have to worry about legal repercussions for the loved ones they leave behind. Peace of mind is truly a blessing.

  2. Joram Barrez November 29, 2011

    Tammy, thanks for taking the time to write down your insightful comment.

    I agree with you wholeheartly (doesn’t every sane thinking person?). I myself also live in a country where medically assisted suicide is legal (Belgium). I agree with you on the ‘weariness of life’, for me it is also difficult to grasp and to define this concept.

    I believe that there also is in Belgium a way to officially write down that you want a medically assisted dead in case of an illness and you are not anymore in the right mind, like dementia or Alzheimer. This way, the ‘burden’ is off your family to make the call (which is illegal, but it sometimes happens).

    I think you sum it up perfectly: “I am relieved that choice is there”. That alone is indeed a blessing.

  3. Tammy Bittler November 29, 2011

    Joram, thank you for your kind and insightful response. We do not have the ability to request assisted suicide for an “as yet to occur” illness here. We do have a way of stating what we want to happen in case of a need for critical care. Assisted suicide isn’t an option in this case, but refusing any assistance that would prolong life is.The line is drawn here because we cannot legally ask someone else to take our life for us, but we can request they do nothing to postpone our death. With these written requests come the options of palliative care: medications that will ease pain, and hospice care. This is in response to the earlier discussion of fear. With the fear of pain removed, many people die peacefully this way,unplugged and in their own time.

  4. AZDave December 21, 2011

    Thank you for this essay! I agree that Tammy’s insights are helpful and it sounds like the state where she lives has found a workable solution. I’d like to add that many of the restrictions are due to the efforts of people who are adamantly opposed to any form of assisted suicide, so that’s another perspective to consider.

    I find this a difficult topic to get my arms around – but in general, pain may not always be something to avoid or relieve. People experience great personal growth during times of suffering, as do those close to them.

  5. Tammy Bittler April 29, 2012

    AZDave,-Thank you for your perspective. I realize there is a great deal of discomfort aligned to the legalizing of taking one’s own life, rightly so! Although I speak in support of assisted suicide as an option, I would be uncomfortable in the idea of taking the subject lightly.
    Yes,experiencing pain can be insightful, and transforming, but I would not deny relief of pain to someone who requests it.The experience of pain is different for each of us, and the decision to suffer, I believe, belongs to the one experiencing it. The choice a person makes can, in itself, open doors for personal growth and transformation. Fear clouds and colors what we experience…I wonder how enlightening one’s experience of death might be if one were free of the fear associated with incredible suffering.
    I must still stand on the side of choice.

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