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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Choosing to die: presented by Terry Pratchett on BBC2

Choosing to die: This TV programme shown yesterday and presented by Sir Terry Pratchett was a sensitive and timely consideration of assisted suicide. It had special poignancy because of Sir Terry's own condition of early Alzheimer's Disease. The programme concentrated on giving an airing to the reasons why two men, unrelated except that they were suffering, each chose to go to Dignitas, in Zurich, to have paid-for assistance to die before their suffering became too great to bear. Peter Smedley had Motor Neurone Disease, an incurable and progressive condition. The other, Andrew Colgan, had Multiple Sclerosis, also incurable and progressive. The hour-long programme is available on iPlayer for another 6 days.

Sir Terry travelled to Zurich, and he and we, the viewers, were privileged to watch Mr Smedley's death, with his loving and beloved wife of forty years by his side, and it certainly looked to me a kindly death compared with the alternative of long-drawn-out suffering.

I have been dismayed and shocked, though not surprised, at the volume of criticism the programme has attracted. As ever, there are people who wilfully conflate the personal choice of death in order to put an end to pain/indignity/suffering and the decision by someone else that another person should die. A 'slippery slope' is always envisaged that must be guarded against, however much agony that causes the people who have to bear the unbearable. I was personally incensed by the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, saying on Radio 4 this morning that pain can always be controlled. - This is completely untrue and it is disgraceful that such untruths are perpetuated by Christians and others, especially doctors. It is all too easy for some to bear another's pain/trivialise it/offer simplistic solutions that do not work. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound."

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