Health

Assisted suicide and Sir Terry Pratchett

  • 14 June 2011
  • From the section Health
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Sir Terry Pratchett
Sir Terry Pratchett

No-one would choose an industrial estate outside Zurich as the place to end their life. But that is exactly what some Britons are doing.

In Choosing to Die on BBC2, the author Sir Terry Pratchett went to Switzerland to witness the assisted suicide of a British man with motor neurone disease.

It was not just Sir Terry who watched Peter Smedley's final moments - the viewer had a front-row seat as well.

Emotional

The organisation Dignitas has a building - surrounded by industrial units - where foreigners are helped to die. Swiss citizens can drink the lethal dose they provide in their own homes.

I was working late last night so watched the programme this morning. The final 15 minutes made very difficult, emotional and compelling viewing.

For me, the documentary brought back memories of Dr Anne Turner who ended her life in Zurich five years ago. She had a progressive degenerative condition, supranuclear palsy.

Uncomfortable

Dr Turner invited the BBC to witness her last day in Switzerland. I travelled with a camera crew to interview her on the morning of her death, asking whether there was anything anyone could say to change her mind.

But like Peter Smedley she had a quiet determination and was unmoveable. Her story was turned into a film, "A Short Stay in Switzerland", starring Julie Walters.

I never went inside the Dignitas flat - back then it was on the third floor of an apartment building in Zurich.

There were clearly very uncomfortable moments for Sir Terry who observed the cheery conversation between Mr Smedley, his wife and the two Dignitas helpers. "This is a pleasant place and they are pleasant people but what is going on here is not exactly medicine," he said

Like others who travel to Switzerland to die, Dr Turner wanted the law changed to permit assisted suicide in Britain. Many who have progressive disorders fear not being fit to travel, so they go to Dignitas earlier than they would have wanted.

Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's disease, is an advocate for assisted suicide in Britain, and said witnessing a death had not changed his opinion.

Many have criticised Choosing to Die as propaganda for assisted suicide. The BBC said Monday's film would help viewers make up "their own minds".

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