I didn't watch the documentary Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die last night, I watched it this morning instead. Or rather I watched most of it this morning. When it came to it I couldn't watch the final part, where the man with Motor Neurone Disease took his poison in the Dignitas clinic in Zurich.
I'm not particularly squeamish, I have been with somebody when they died, and have visited deceased loved ones in chapels of rest, but this seemed too deep to be watching on TV. It felt as though I were just watching another episode of a soap opera. I slightly surprised myself, but it seemed so undignified to sit watching Mr Smedley die, especially after I had been so impressed by his dignity throughout the rest of the programme. I didn't expect to feel that way when I sat down to watch.
Something I did find disturbing in the build up to the programme were the constant references to people with MND and the way they die. The overwhelming majority die peaceful deaths and do not die by choking to death or suffocating. I worked with people with MND for eight years and many find it extremely disturbing when they see programmes such as last night's. I heard many people in the aftermath of programmes such as that state that their lives were going to be cut short because of MND, and they did not want to shorten it still further. Others felt depressed that these programmes make their lives out to be worthless and that they have no value because of their disability. Sadly that side of the debate was not aired last night.
Having a loved one commit suicide can devastate individuals and families left behind. People often feel that they could have done more to help their loved one. There can be a sense that the person who committed suicide had been selfish and inflicted more pain on those left behind than if they had died naturally. Families can be split apart with a sense of guilt, shock or any of the other countless feelings and emotions inevitable when something as huge as that affects them. None of this was considered in last night's programme. Those feelings would be there, I believe, whether the person dies in a clinic in Zurich, or a bedroom in London. Legalising suicide, or legalising assisited suicide, would not take away the pain for those left behind.
My other problem with the programme was that the presenter was Terry Pratchett. If the BBC wanted to be impartial in looking at the issue of assisted suicide, I do not think using a man with Alzheimer's is particularly impartial or objective, especially as it was clear from the start what Terry Pratchett's position was. I'm not criticising the man himself for that, rather the programme makers and the BBC. Although I did find his comment about having to travel to Switzerland to die inconvenient and costly fatuous in the extreme.
Like legalising abortion I feel that legalising assisted suicide would be the thin end of the wedge. It would begin being an option in extreme cases, but who knows where it would end? The frightening statistic that was quoted last night was that 21% of those dying in the Zurich clinic do not have terminal or incurable diseases at all, they were described as 'weary of life'. Rather takes away the 'oh it won't be used in cases like that' argument already.
My position on this issue is the same as those who marched against the war in Iraq, not in my name, and legalising assisted suicide would be exactly that. The only thing we know with absolute certainty is that one day we will die, and when my time comes I want it to happen naturally. There seems something terribly soulless about a society that does not put child murderers to death, but sanctions the killing of the sick, the terminally ill and the unborn.
I don't think last night's programme contributed anything to the debate about assisted suicide, it certainly didn't raise any issues that haven't been debated over and over again. What the BBC is very good at is producing sensationalist programmes and patronisingly claiming that is in the public interest. In that respect last night's programme was very BBC.