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In December 2007, British fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Primarily known for his best-selling Discworld series of fantasy novels, he has now become a vocal advocate for the right to “early death.”

The video above is from Pratchett’s speech, “Shaking Hands with Death,” for the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture. Early on in the speech — delivered by actor Tony Robinson due to Pratchett’s condition — he tells the story of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer:

“On the day he was diagnosed my ­father told me, ‘If you ever see me in a hospital bed, full of tubes and pipes and no good to anybody, tell them to switch me off.’ In fact, it took something under a fortnight in the hospice for him to die as a kind of collateral damage in the war between his cancer and the morphine. And in that time he stopped being him and started becoming a corpse, albeit one that moved ever so slightly from time to time.”

In the clip above, Pratchett addresses what he calls “the God argument” and identifies himself as a humanist who “would rather believe that we were a rising ape, not a falling angel.” He finishes with this thought:

“It’s that much-heralded thing called the quality of life that’s important. How you live your life, what you get out of it, what you put into it, and what you leave behind after it. We should aim for a good and rich life well-lived. And at the end of it, in the comfort of our own home, in the company of those who love us, have a death worth dying for.”


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3 Comments

This is a very important topic for families, healthcare workers, ministers, and hospice staff. I call it a topic rather than an argument, but I'm afraid that most folks will likely view the dialog in terms of a debate or argument.

I agree there has to be more than a Do Not Resuscitate order...  we should be able to make a decision about our own quality of lives and so that it doesn't cross over into some moral spin, perhaps having a fatal condition could be one of the requirements so we finally can decide what we want and NOT what technology can wreak upon us when it is unwanted.  I feel that death 50 years ago was gentler.  Currently death almost always happens in a sterile hospital amongst strangers and bright lights, beeping instruments counting out your minutes and difficulty for loved ones to share that time because of proximity.  No sleeping in your own bed, no sleeping anyhow because of the near constant checks all hours of the day, I hope I NEVER have to deal with that and that choosing the right to die on my schedule will be approved by the time I want or need that choice.......

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