On Terry Pratchett and Assisted Suicide

Terry Pratchett is doing a documentary on assisted suicide for the BBC.

Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, has been diagnosed himself with Alzheimer’s Disease. Said Pratchett, “I believe everybody possessed of a debilitating and incurable disease should be allowed to pick the hour of their death.”

I can’t disagree with that.

My dad and I have had discussions on the subject of the end of life.

“What does it say about our society that we treat our pets with more dignity at the end of their lives than we treat our elderly? What does it say about our priorities that we make sure our pets have a better quality of life at the end than our parents and grandparents do?” That was my question, and I didn’t expect my dad to have the answers. There aren’t any. Who has the right to decide?

Years ago, when I worked for EB Games in North Carolina, I remember one particular night I went to the Quiznos a few doors down from the store, ordered a sandwich (might’ve been the Honey Bacon Club, now that I think about it), picked up a copy of the local free weekly (the Independent), and read an article about a local documentary on assisted suicide. This article. The article made an impression upon me, eight years ago, that I could remember it vividly enough that I found it with a single Google search.

The subject matter interests me.

Why is it that we let people suffer at the end of life? Being alive is not the same thing as having life.

I can see the religious argument against letting people die with dignity, on their own terms, at the time and place of their own choosing — Suffering in this life is preparation for bliss in the next. Or, ending life is god’s prerogative, not man’s.

I don’t find those convincing arguments. Not because as an atheist, I reject the entire premise of the argument (ie., the existence of a god), but because I find the arguments immoral. If you presume the existence of a god or gods, why would it allow, even encourage such pointless suffering? Wasting illnesses, like dementia, that leave a shell of body that clings to life for years is utter pointlessness. Worse, it’s cruel and capricious, and I cannot imagine how any god would condemn a person for their compassion in helping another find peace.

I doubt that Pratchett’s documentary on assisted suicide will air in the United States. I may have to use other means to acquire the program this summer. I expect it to be moving. I expect it to be emotionally painful. And I expect it to be informative and educational about a subject that, with modern medicine and very long lifetimes, more and more people will be confronting head-on in the decades to come.

4 thoughts on “On Terry Pratchett and Assisted Suicide

  1. While I agree with you about assisted suicide, and have been for it since I saw my grandfather kept alive for a week on machines (when I was 12) because we didn’t know we needed such a thing as a living will or a DNR order, I’d like to make one side comment.

    You probably know I’m Wiccan. My Gods are not omnipotent nor omnipresent, and generally only interfere in our lives when they need something or we ask for help. The Judeo-Christian religious arguments you put forth don’t make sense, I agree. Those folks are the same fucks that would tell me my mother dropped dead one morning “for a reason”, which I’ll never believe.

    At any rate, I just wanted to point out that there are religious people and religious viewpoints that could support assisted suicide. They’re just not mainstream.

  2. I hadn’t really considered a non-Christian viewpoint on the issue, Terpette, though I can see how other belief and/or moral frameworks would come to a different perspectives on the end of life.

    I come at it from a Christian viewpoint because I was raised Methodist, and I still carry a lot of that moral framework even if I don’t carry the religious beliefs. (Richard Dawkins calls it being “culturally Christian.”)

    The documentary hasn’t even aired, and already the BBC is being criticized for promoting assisted suicide and violating moral standards. That just makes me sad. It’s a reflexive hate.

  3. I was raised Lutheran, but I don’t think I was ever culturally Christian and that’s probably one of the reasons I’m Wiccan.

    I also think the Western fear of death has a lot to do with this. Better to have the body alive, even if the soul is gone, because then they aren’t dead. It’s a weird attitude to have when Christians believe in heaven, right? I believe in a happy afterlife, too, and in some respects I’m glad Mom went quick because having to fight with the hospital over whether a soul-dead vegetable should be plugged in would have torn up me and Dad both. We knew it wasn’t what she would have wanted, and what are the real odds of cheating death twice?

  4. I love Christmas too much not to be cultural Christian. Heck, I feel like firing up some Christmas music to make the day pass. 🙂

    The fear of death is almost certainly a component of it, and I also think the belief in an afterlife plays a role.

    I have no belief in an afterlife. I think this is the only shot I get.

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