‘Choosing To Die’ on TV and the chilling reality of Assisted Suicide

I’ve just finished watching a BBC Documentary on Assisted Suicide. ‘Choosing To Die’ was presented by Terry Pratchett, the famous OBE author who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers and has since campaigned for legalisation of assisted suicide. He explored the tough lives of people who were suffering terminal illness. They were also battling with the choice to commit suicide in order to end the pain and misery that they were feeling, as a direct result of the illness that they had. It was also a way to explore the possible options for Pratchett’s life too, and the documentary follows the debate in his mind of whether to opt for assisted suicide in Switzerland or not.

The programme has sparked a lot of heated debate and anger over the whole issue of whether assisted suicide is morally and ethically allowable or not. I’ve commented on assisted suicide before; here and here, but this article merely has the aim and purpose of recording my personal feelings as reflection to watching the programme.

I have to admit that I cried during the documentary. The programme showed, without editing, the actual end of someone’s life. I can safely and assuredly say that I wasn’t crying out of happiness that the gentleman finally received his wish of being able to choose to die.

Another man was filmed who was in his forties, suffering from MS. He had picked a date to end his life and had passed all the requirements to say that he was in the right mind to take his own life. I couldn’t help but feel that something within him was telling him that he shouldn’t have decided to end his life. In the final moments, he was saying how he’d fallen in love with Zurich and was debating in his mind whether he should ‘go’ or not. Did he want to take his life just because he’d paid for it all and wanted to do it out of determination, or because he genuinely couldn’t go on anymore?

The guy who manages Dignitas, the place where people go to die in Switzerland, said that everyone has the human right to end his/her life whenever they want, regardless of illness. A shocking statistic revealed that 21% of the patients at Dignitas end their life just because they’re ‘weary’ with it. Very chilling indeed.

I won’t deny that the documentary was moving; because it was very much so. And I don’t think Terry Pratchett had the aim of making this documentary in order to win people’s hearts over to the ‘Pro assisted suicide’ camp. But I found the whole thing very chilling, and it only highlighted to me that there are serious risks and dangers involved with the idea that we have the right to end our lives whenever we want.

I am a Christian, who believes that we don’t ‘own’ our lives in one respect; that they are given as a gift from God, who ultimately should decide when one’s life ends. But even if I weren’t a Christian, I don’t know whether I could accept that assisted suicide should be legal. The stakes are just too high. The idea that one may feel pressured to take his/her own life, the sheer agony that the family would undoubtedly go through, the whole notion of taking poison and that possibility that you may regret it, but it’s too late…

Overall, I found the programme deeply challenging, moving, and heart wrenching. I could only feel compassion and sympathy for the families involved, and for those who had decided to end their lives. But it didn’t change my opinion on assisted suicide; in fact it only made my current opinion stronger. To my mind, there was nothing relieving, joyful, or releasing about any one of those people choosing to end their lives, which, whether you agree with me or not, was very undignified, and left the people who were left behind in blindingly obvious turmoil.

I had to ask myself many a time during the documentary whether I thought the people really believed what they were saying. And every time, I told myself, “no”. How could anyone say that they’re fine for their husband/wife/kids/parents to end their life, because it’s what they want? I don’t know…

The whole thing is dangerous ground, full of arguments for and against, which I don’t claim to know, or have all the answers to. But what I will say is that I have known many people with terminal illness who have had very happy endings to their lives. Despite being in unimaginable pain,they died not in an undignified way, but in a natural way, surrounded by loving family and  friends. They have since left a legacy of being brave soldiers. Fighting to the bitter end, they did not let their illness get in the way of the precious, precious moments that the illness had spared them to be with their families and to spend and create final happy memories with them.

I don’t know whether I could trade that time with a cup of poison at a price tag of around £10,000 which would end it all prematurely.

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • KD

    This is without doubt a tremendously difficult subject. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen two of my friends go through the worst time before finally passing away. In fact it’s two years this week since one of them passed away, and we were just remembering him last night at work. They were tremendous characters, and I miss them both.
    I’ve wondered if I would have the courage to meet that situation as they did. They each faced their condition head-on, and seeing them ill and talking with them, you can’t help thinking about how you would cope yourself.
    I don’t suppose any of us know, unless we are in that situation ourselves. I take the view that my two friends showed great personal integrity and courage, and I admire them greatly for how they lived their lives, right up until there was no more fighting to be done.

    • Thank you so much for this KD. It’s really wonderful to hear you talk in such a beautiful way about your friends. It really is a difficult subject to talk about, but I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking about the brilliantly positive legacy that they have both left behind in your life, even through their suffering.

      Thanks for this 🙂

  • KD

    Thanks for that Dean. I’ve been thinking particularly about my friend who passed away two years ago just this week; he was such a great lad, I try to take the view that I was fortunate to have known him, although it was only for a relatively short time. I tried to do what I could for him when he was ill; we all visited regularly, and organised a special day out for him, once he became really poorly. Sadly the other fellow from work who helped me organise that day fell ill with exactly the same disease shortly afterwards. Both of them are genuinely, sincerely, as they say, sadly missed. I think that each of them was an inspirational character in different ways, both in how they lived their lives, and how they passed away.
    Touching upon the original subject then; I just can’t see men of that character doing anything other than fight to die the same way they lived, with real integrity, with courage, and yes, sometimes with humour. Amazing, tough, unforgettable (and I mean that in the best way) characters.

    • I think what you’ve said is great. Spot on. Thanks for sharing, KD. 🙂

  • KD

    Peter Hitchens has made some excellent points in this article. He looks at it from a different perspective, but he’s right on the mark with what he says.

    • Thanks for the heads up on this article KD, will have a gander!