Assisted Something Else

by stephenpalmersf

Assisted Something Else

Though I read and enjoyed Terry Pratchett’s first few books, I was never a fan in the traditional sense, and I dropped out of the milieu after about book number eight. I do think though that his work on Alzheimer’s Disease and in particular on assisted suicide is at least as important as his many literary achievements.

But that phrase assisted suicide bothers me. Suicide has negative connotations in our culture, as in so many cultures – in some, it is a sin – and in certain circumstances I don’t think the word should be used. Terry’s most remarkable film was the one broadcast in 2011, when he followed a British man, Peter Smedley, to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. I watched the whole programme, as did so many at the time. It was inspirational. But to me that event was not assisted suicide, it was assisted something else.

There is a scene in The Lord Of The Rings – a fragment of a moment, not even in the book itself, rather in one of the appendices – where Tolkien describes the end of Aragorn’s life. Aragorn, being a man of Numenor, is “allowed” (ie by Tolkien’s Christianesque hierarchy) to lay down his life when he knows it is done. That scene has always meant a lot to me. As an atheist who knows you only live once, that you have no soul or spirit, and are wholly bound to your body, I know that a life is a once only event. You have to live every day, contribute to society and to life, and take back from them in equal measure; and if possible fulfil all your potential. Of course, not everyone can do that, but I think it is the only way to avoid decades of fear of death.

So let’s distinguish between suicide and laying down your life. Let’s have a new description of what could happen at the end of a full life, whether that life be happy, unhappy, or, as in 99.99999% of cases, somewhere in between.

There should be no “assisted suicide.” There should be assisted laying down of your life. If at all possible, that’s what I will be doing.

t p

Terry Pratchett

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