The death of a pilot

Next Monday, 13 June, BBC2 TV will show a documentary on a former pilot, suffering from motor neurone disease, who chose to die in a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The program, to be screened at 9pm UK time, is narrated by the author Sir Terry Pratchett. As someone who was diagnosed three years ago with early onset Alzheimer, Sir Terry is a fervent advocate of the right to die by an assisted suicide. He describes himself and his wife as quite possibly being in a similar situation in around 10 years time. In this documentary he has interviewed three men with degenerative illnesses, and been at the side of Peter, the ex-pilot, when he took what he called his "hemlock", fell asleep and died with his wife holding his hand.

Pratchett describes Peter’s last moments in an interview with the Radio Times: “I shook hands with Peter and he said to me, ‘Have a good life,’ and he added, ‘I know I have’.” Peter is filmed saying goodbye to everyone in the room. Pratchett continued: “And here’s the bit that blows your mind — he can’t remember the name of the sound man. Here is a courteous man thanking the people who have come with him to be there and he’s now embarrassed at the point of death because he can’t remember the soundman’s name. This is so English and that’s why I was in tears.”

In the UK, assisted suicide is a very delicate and controversial subject. Many sufferers there have campaigned long and hard for the right to have their family assist them, if necessary on a trip to Switzerland, and be with them in their final moments. However, under English law this can be treated akin to murder, with the relatives, friends and doctors concerned risking being sent to prison for their actions. Nearly two years ago, in July 2009, Debbie Purdy, a sufferer from multiple sclerosis, went to the House of Lords to argue that it was a breach of her human rights not to know whether her husband, Cuban jazz violinist Omar Puente, would be prosecuted if he accompanied her to Swiss clinic Dignitas where she wished to die if her condition worsened.In the last ever decision by the law lords, who subsequently became instead justices of the new supreme court, her appeal was upheld and the lords ordered that the director of public prosecutions should issue a policy setting out when those in Puente's position can expect to face prosecution.

In looking up facts about Debbie Purdy, I was amazed to see that she was born in the same town (Bradford, Yorkshire) as I was, though much later, but not surprised by her actions: Yorkshire people speak their minds!. She is still alive and campaigning, claiming that things are still not clear enough for people to be sure when they might or might not be prosecuted. She says, however, that knowing that her husband can help her when necessary has avoided her coming to Switzerland early while she can still travel on her own.

Sir Terry Pratchett sees himself as potentially in a similar situation. However, my experience of people suffering from Alzheimer disease, or any other similar dementia, is that the worst time for them is when they have been diagnosed, know that there is no cure on the horizon and see a bleak future. When the disease actually takes over the brain then it is too late for them to take any decision, but at the same time they are mostly beyond the point of anxiety and mental suffering (though I may be wrong: we have no idea what goes on in their minds).

As many people have stated, the fact that medecine is prolonging our life expectancy by preventing or curing more physical illnesses (cancer, strokes etc.) means that there will be many more people suffering from some form of dementia. How do we cope, in an age when families no longer have several generations staying in one place, where both husband and wife (partners!) work and where divorce rates continually increase?

For myself, fortunate (in a way) to live in Switzerland and not have to think about the UK situation, I can envisage situations where I might find that life no longer holds any pleasure whatsoever, but only suffering, pain and anxiety. In such a case I would, if I chose to die, like to be able to have my family around at the last moments.

And you?


16:28 Posted in Potpourri | Permalink | Comments (2) | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook


Ma religion est catholique et je crois en Dieu. Selon la Bible, l'homme n'ont pas le droit de lui ôter la vie. Seul Dieu sait quand vous quittez votre corps humain ... Je suis en désaccord avec l'aide au suicide pratiqué au Royaume-Uni.

Posted by: research paper writers | 06/13/2011

L'aide au suicide n'est pas pratiqué au Royaume-Uni.

Votre réligion ne vous donne pas le droit d'imposer vos croyances aux autres.

Posted by: Mike Gerard | 06/13/2011

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