Terry Pratchett died yesterday. He was 66 and suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was a brilliant mind, and the world is so much poorer for his absence.
In 2011, three years after his diagnosis, he made a film called Choosing to Die. He met with an extremely British man, Peter Smedley, who had motor neurone disease – known here in the States as ALS. Peter was about the same stage as I am when he chose to die, weakness in his legs that made it difficult to walk and get up out of chairs. He had a very bright mind, and saw clearly the end of his path. He didn’t want his story to end that way, so he went to Switzerland and wrote his own exit. His wife was immaculate and also extremely British and very “keep calm and carry on”. They both kept a very strong face through it all.
I did not expect to actually see the man die.
I am glad they filmed it. It was a very good and honest look at the mechanics of the assisted death. And even though it was hard to watch, I am grateful that he shared his story. It was surreal to see someone at the same stage as I, with the same mindset, take the steps. Earlier than I would ever have. So much earlier. But he knew where he was going and did not want that undignified end, and so he took the poison and his wife stroked his hand and he fell asleep and died.
And he had to go to Switzerland to do it.
I am so, so grateful, again, to live in a state where it’s legal. How anyone can deny someone the right to die comfortably in their own homes on their own terms is quite beyond me.
It is, indeed, a beastly, undignified business.