WOSSNAME -- AUGUST 2009 -- PART 2 OF 5
- WOSSNAME -- AUGUST 2009 -- PART 2 OF 5 (continued)
====Part 2 -- DEATH AND DIGNITY, CONTINUED, AND NEWS
5) PRATCHETT ON DEATH AND DIGNITY, CONTINUED...
6) ...AND INTERVIEWED AT THE DARWIN FESTIVAL
5) PTERRY ON DEATH, CONTINUED
But, of course, important points are being made in this debate.
Currently, people say they are worried about the possibility of old
people being 'urged' by greedy relatives into taking an early death.
If we cannot come up with a means of identifying this, I would be
In any case, in my experience it is pretty impossible to get an
elderly person to do something they do not wish to do. They tend to
know their own mind like the back of their hand, and quite probably
would object to this being questioned.
There needs to be, for the safety of all concerned, some kind of
gentle tribunal, to make certain that requests for assisted death
are bona fide and not perhaps due to gentle persuasion.
It is the sort of thing, in my opinion, coroners could handle well.
All the ones I have met have been former lawyers with much
experience of the world and of the ways of human nature, people with
wisdom, in fact, and that means middle-aged at the very least, and
old enough to have some grasp of the world's realities.
I have no way of knowing whether any of them would wish to be
involved; this is breaking new ground and we won't know unless we
In my early journalistic years, I watched such men deal with the
deaths of thalidomide babies and the results of terrible accidents
with calm and compassion. If their successors are as caring in their
deliberations, I feel this may go some way to meeting the objections
that people have.
And I would suggest, too, that Social Services be kept well away
from any such arrangement. I don't think they would have much to
In this country we have rather lost faith in the wisdom of ordinary
people, among whom my father was a shining example. And it is
ordinary people, ultimately, who must make such decisions.
There are those who will object that the care industry can cope.
Even if we accept that they are coping now, which most of us will
take on trust, in the coming decades they certainly will not be able
to without a major reordering of our society.
The numbers tell us this. We already have a situation where elderly
people are being cared for at home by people who themselves are of
pensionable age. The healthcare system will become messy, and the
NHS will struggle to cope.
There are care homes, of course, and they are subject to inspection,
and we must take it on trust that the inspection system has teeth,
but would you know how to choose one? Would you know what questions
Would you know, if you suffer from Alzheimer's disease or are
representing someone who is, whether the place you would be choosing
resorts to 'peg feeding'?
Peg feeding is the forcible feeding of patients who refuse food. I
found out about this only recently, and I'm afraid it has entirely
coloured my views.
These are, after all, innocent people who are on the road to death,
and yet someone thinks it is right to subject them to this degrading
and painful business.
The Alzheimer's Society says peg feeding is 'not best practice', a
rather diplomatic statement.
People there that I trust tell me the main problem with the
treatment of acute Alzheimer's cases is not a lack of care and
goodwill as such, but insufficient numbers of people who are skilled
in the special needs of the terminally-ill Alzheimer's patient.
I am certain no one sets out to be cruel, but our treatment of the
elderly ill seems to have no philosophy to it.
As a society, we should establish whether we have a policy of 'life
at any cost'. Apparently there is already such a thing as an
official 'quality of life index': I don't know whether the fact that
we have one frightens me more than the possibility that we don't.
In the first book of my Discworld series, published more than 26
years ago, I introduced Death as a character; there was nothing
particularly new about this -- death has featured in art and
literature since medieval times, and for centuries we have had a
fascination with the Grim Reaper.
But the Death of the Discworld is a little more unusual. He has
become popular - after all, as he patiently explains, it is not he
who kills. Guns and knives and starvation kill; Death turns up
afterwards, to reassure the puzzled arrivals as they begin their
He is kind; after all, he is an angel. And he is fascinated with us,
in the way in which we make our little lives so complicated, and our
strivings. So am I.
Within a year or two, I started to get letters about Death. They
came from people in hospices, and from their relatives and from
bereaved individuals, and from young children in leukaemia wards,
and the parents of boys who had crashed their motorbikes.
I recall one letter where the writer said the books were of great
help to his mother when she was in a hospice. Frequently, the
bereaved asked to be allowed to quote some part of the Discworld
books in a memorial service.
They all tried to say, in some way, 'thank you', and until I got
used to it, the arrival of one of these letters would move me
sufficiently to give up writing for the day.
The bravest person I've ever met was a young boy going through
massive amounts of treatment for a very rare, complex and unpleasant
disease. I last saw him at a Discworld convention, where he chose to
take part in a game as an assassin. He died not long afterwards, and
I wish I had his fortitude and sense of style.
I would like to think my refusal to go into care towards the end of
my life might free up the resources for people such as him.
Let me make this very clear: I do not believe there is any such
thing as a 'duty to die'; we should treasure great age as the
tangible presence of the past, and honour it as such.
I know that last September Baroness Warnock was quoted, or possibly
misquoted, as saying the very elderly sick had a 'duty to die', and
I have seen people profess to fear that the existence of a
formalised approach to assisted dying could lead to it somehow
becoming part of national health policy.
I very much doubt this could be the case. We are a democracy and no
democratic government is going to get anywhere with a policy of
compulsory or even recommended euthanasia. If we were ever to end up
with such a government, we would be in so much trouble that the
problem would become the least of our worries.
But neither do I believe in a duty to suffer the worst ravages of
As an author, I've always tended to be known only to a circle of
people -- quite a large one, I must admit -- who read books. I was
not prepared for what happened after I 'came out' about having
Alzheimer's in December 2007, and appeared on television.
People would stop me in the street to tell me their mother had it,
or their father had it. Sometimes, it's both parents, and I look
into their eyes and I see a flash of fear.
In London the other day, a beefy man grabbed my arm, smiled at me
and said, 'Thanks a lot for what you're doing, my mum died from it,'
and disappeared into the crowd.
And, of course, there have been the vast numbers of letters and
emails, some of which, I'm ashamed to say, will perhaps never be
People do fear, and not because fear is whipped up, but because
they've recalled an unpleasant death in their family history.
Sometimes I find myself involved in strange conversations, because I
am an amiable-looking person who people think they know and,
importantly, I am not an authority figure -- quite the reverse.
I have met Alzheimer's sufferers who are hoping that another illness
takes them away first. Little old ladies confide in me, saying:
'I've been saving up my pills for the end, dear.'
What they are doing, in fact, is buying themselves a feeling of
control. I have met retired nurses who have made their own
provisions for the future with rather more knowledgeable
From personal experience, I believe the recent poll reflects the
views of the people in this country. They don't dread death; it's
what happens beforehand that worries them.
Life is easy and cheap to make. But the things we add to it, such as
pride, self-respect and human dignity, are worthy of preservation,
too, and these can be lost in a fetish for life at any cost.
I believe that if the burden gets too great, those who wish to
should be allowed to be shown the door.
In my case, in the fullness of time, I hope it will be the one to
the garden under an English sky. Or, if wet, the library.
Note: The complete text of the letter can be found here under the
"Sir Terry says that 'right-to-die' campaigners trying to change the
law on suicide are acting with 'furious sanity'. He calls for the
creation of special tribunals run by coroners to establish that
terminally ill patients who request assisted deaths are acting
voluntarily... Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's
Society, said more people should consider registering a living will
or 'Lasting Power of Attorney'. He said: 'Terry, like many of us,
wants dignity at the end of his life. For people with dementia this
can be made possible by good quality end-of-life care.'..."
Also, a selection of other reports:
Respected science fiction author Cory Doctorow lauds Pterry's letter
and decision on BoingBoing, a favoured website in the IT geek
"Who could say that is bad? Where is the evil here? ... (Note: it
takes something damned important to get me to link to the vile Daily
Mail. This qualifies.)"
Columnist Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror:
"Anyone who has watched someone they love die of a terminal disease
will likely agree with Terry. At the end many lives narrow down to
morphine, pain, humiliation, sadness and suffering..."
"Sir Terry Pratchett, the author and Alzheimer's sufferer, has
suggested that tribunals of coroners should be set up to decide if
terminally ill people can..." [finish quotation]
...and a reasonably open-minded take on this from some Roundworld
"Pratchett said he did not believe legal assisted suicide would lead
to involuntary euthanasia of helpless patients..."
Cheltenham First Post:
"A recent Populus poll showed that more than three-quarters of
respondents were in favour of the right to suicide for the
This is Local London:
"Speaking on Radio Five Live on Monday morning, Sir Terry, who was
diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007, said he hopes that one
day someone will help him to die. The author told host Nicky
Campbell: 'I know my own mind and all I'm asking is to have power of
attorney over my older self. The people who are going for early
deaths seem to be frighteningly sane.'..."
"Sir Terry, best known for his Discworld fantasy books, asked
society to establish whether it should have a policy of life at any
6) PTERRY AT THE DARWIN FESTIVAL
An audio interview with Pterry by Dr Chris Smith at last month's
"I don't think he cherished the thought of atheism or what he was
possibly doing to people's belief, and I think that's fairly clear
in some of his writing..."
End of Part 2 -- continued on Part 3 of 5.
If you did not get all five parts, write: interact@...
Copyright (c) 2009 by Klatchian Foreign Legion