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Terry Pratchett Defends Choosing To Die

June 15, 2011

From yesterday’s Guardian:

Sir Terry Pratchett has defended his BBC2 documentary, which showed the death of a millionaire hotelier suffering from motor neurone disease, against criticism from groups opposed to assisted dying.

In Choosing to Die, screened on Monday night, the 63-year-old writer, who has Alzheimer’s disease, went to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see Peter Smedley take a lethal dose of barbiturates. Michael Nazir-Ali, the retired Bishop of Rochester condemned the programme as “science fiction”, while Care not Killing (CNK) described it as “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people”.

Asked why he wanted to make the film, Pratchett told BBC Breakfast: “Because I was appalled at the current situation. I know that assisted dying is practised in at least three places in Europe and also in the United States. The government here has always turned its back on it and I was ashamed that British people had to drag themselves to Switzerland, at considerable cost, in order to get the services that they were hoping for.”

Smedley, 71, travelled from his mansion in Guernsey to the clinic, which over the last 12 years has helped 1,100 people to die.

Pratchett said: “Peter wanted to show the world what was happening and why he was doing it.” He added: “You can tell in the film that I’m moved. The incongruity of the situation overtakes you. A man has died, that’s a bad thing. But he wanted to die, that’s a good thing.”

Campaigners accused the BBC of helping to promote assisted dying and of consistently portraying the practice favourably.

Writing on the Christian Concern website, Nazir-Ali said: “Real life is quite different from Sir Terry’s science fiction … The Judaeo-Christian tradition is a surer guide. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is about acknowledging the gift and dignity of human life which, whether ours or another’s, we do not have the competence to take.”

CNK’s campaign director, Dr Peter Saunders said: “This latest move by the BBC is a disgraceful use of licence-payers’ money and further evidence of a blatant campaigning stance. The corporation has now produced five documentaries or docudramas since 2008 portraying assisted suicide in a positive light. Where are the balancing programmes showing the benefits of palliative care, promoting investment on social support for vulnerable people or highlighting the great dangers of legalisation which have convinced parliaments in Australia, France, Canada, Scotland and the US to resist any change in the law in the last 12 months alone?”

Pratchett is a patron of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying. The organisation’s chief executive, Sarah Wootton, said: “At the heart of the assisted dying debate, and Choosing to Die, is choice and protection. People suffer at the end of life, and therefore people take difficult decisions about their own deaths. As uncomfortable as it may be we need to face up to the reality of what is going on, both at home and abroad.”

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