Since his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Discworld author Terry Pratchett has become a vocal advocate for people's right to die when faced with extremely debilitating diseases. He explained how the state might regulate "assisted death" in an intelligent, moving speech.
Delivered earlier this week, the speech has now been excerpted in the Guardian. Pratchett suggests that the government could set up tribunals to investigate requests for assisted death, making sure the petitioners are sane, faced with debilitating illness, and haven't been coerced.
Pratchett began by talking about "shaking hands with death," referring to a scene from Ingmar Bergman's movie Seventh Seal, where a knight plays chess with death. He goes on to say:
[I] vowed that rather than let Alzheimer's take me, I would take it. I would live my life as ever to the full and die, before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand to wash down whatever modern version of the "Brompton cocktail" some helpful medic could supply. And with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death.
This seems to me quite a reasonable and sensible decision for someone with a serious, incurable and debilitating disease to elect for a medically assisted death by appointment . . .
That is why I and others have suggested some kind of strictly non-aggressive tribunal that would establish the facts of the case well before the assisted death takes place. This might make some people, including me, a little uneasy as it suggests the government has the power to tell you whether you can live or die. But, that said, the government cannot sidestep the responsibility to ensure the protection of the vulnerable and we must respect that. It grieves me that those against assisted death seem to assume, as a matter of course, that those of us who support it have not thought long and hard about this very issue. It is, in fact, at the soul and centre of my argument . . .
Let us consider me as a test case. As I have said, I would like to die peacefully with Thomas Tallis on my iPod before the disease takes me over and I hope that will not be for quite some time to come, because if I knew that I could die at any time I wanted, then suddenly every day would be as precious as a million pounds. If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice.
Excerpts from Terry Pratchett's speech via UK Guardian