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Terry Pratchett - Choosing to die

Terry Pratchett - Choosing to die


In 2011, famed fantasy author Terry Pratchett precipitated in a documentary on the BBC he interviewed English people with various amendments about whether or not they would end their lives and why. He followed two men to Switzerland and actually stayed with one of them while they performed the procedure. He also interviewed one man who lived in a hospice and was not choosing to end his life.

As a disability rights activist and someone who has profound difficulties with the idea that anyone for any reason would choose to end their life voluntarily, this review was difficult to write. However, I did notice a few salient points I would like to call your attention to.

1. All the people interviewed were white men, including Terry Pratchett.

2. Except for the man who lived in hospice no one seemed to have significant access to assistive technology or even ramps into their houses or personal care assistance. This alarmed me, because I realize that frequently the denial of these services or supports might lead someone to want to end their life.

3. While I didn't see the entire mental health interview, I was impressed that so many people from Dignitas, kept repeatedly asking the person in question whether he was sure he wanted to kill himself.

4. I was much less impressed by the fact that they approved people to commit suicide who had no significant health issues. In my opinion, people with and without disabilities should first be referred to psychiatric counseling before assisted suicide is approved. I think you should at least have to go through six months of therapy before you can be considered for the procedure. Think about it. There are waiting periods for abortions, gun ownership, gender confirmation surgery and many more medical and other occurrences. Why should there not be one for this one, too? You can't undo it, after all.

5. According to Wikipedia, Digsnitas (where the men went) refuses to open up their financial records to public scrutiny as required by all Swiss nonprofit organizations. I wonder what is going on there?

On the whole, I thought that the movie was very well made and thought-provoking. I was a little disappointed that they did not have anyone who was opposed to assisted suicide in the documentary. I always thought the BBC was a little more evenhanded than that. I also like the fact that anyone with an Internet connection can watch the documentary free.

I am glad I watched this documentary, although as a person with a disability (PWD) it made me sad. I wanted to intervene or get someone to intervene and make sure that these men, who clearly reminded me of friends, weren’t missing the service or supports that would enable them to have productive lives with disabilities. I hope they meant someone with a disability similar to theirs who was having a productive life before they made this decision. Maybe these interventions would've worked, maybe they wouldn't. But I do hope those efforts were made.

It's hard for me to think about legalizing or condoning the suicide of any person without making sure certain failsafes, such as the right to have community-based services and supports are in place and the right to affordable, accessible, integrated housing is just that, a right. I realize that even if these supports are in place, there may be a few people who cannot deal with the day-to-day struggles of having an impairment. However, I believe that there will be many fewer people who confuse death and dignity.

For myself, I want to die in my house with my cat, my spouse, my children, my wheelchair, and my personal care assistant. If I have my druthers, I'll also be 102. That's my idea of a dignified death.