POINT ME TO HEAVEN WHEN THE FINAL CHAPTER COMES | Terry Pratchett | Mail on Sunday, 2 August 2009

Mail on Sunday, 2 August 2009

I’m all for assisted death. Of course there are people who are against
it, but they come up with the wrong reasons, such as “God doesn’t like
it” and so on. Personally, I really don’t think God is all that
bothered, but I would like to think that my god would be more concerned
about unnecessary suffering. Who knows.

We are being stupid.
We have been so successful in the past century at the art of living
longer and staying alive that we have forgotten how to die. Too often we
learn the hard way. As soon as the baby boomers pass pensionable age,
their lesson will be harsher still. At least, that is what I thought
until last week.

Now, however, I live in hope—hope that before
the disease in my brain finally wipes it clean, I can jump before I am
pushed and drag my evil Nemesis to its doom, like Sherlock Holmes and
Moriarty locked in combat as they go over the waterfall.

In any case, such thinking bestows a wonderful feeling of power; the enemy might win but it won’t triumph.

Last week a poll revealed that more than three quarters of people in
Britain approve of assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Thursday, the Law Lords delivered the landmark judgment in a case
brought by multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, who feared her
husband would be prosecuted if he accompanied her to die abroad.

She wanted the law on assisted dying to be clarified and the Law Lords
have now ordered the director of Public Prosecutions to draw up policy
spelling out when prosecutions would and would not be pursued.

It looks as though the baby boomers have spoken and some of them, at
least, hope they die before they get old—well, too old. Some have seen
what happened to their parents or grandparents, and they don’t like it.
Every day I remember my own father’s death. The nurses were kind, but
there was something very wrong about it.

The poll result
arrived at about the same time as the Royal College of Nursing
announced that it was ending its opposition to assisted dying. Other
signs indicate that the medical profession as a whole is at least
prepared to face the issue.

I hate the term “assisted suicide.”
I have witnessed the aftermath of two suicides, and as a journalist I
attended far too many coroners’ inquests, where I was amazed and
appalled at the many ways that desperate people find to end their

Suicide is fear, shame, despair, and grief. It is madness.

Those brave souls lately seeking death abroad seem to me, on the other
hand, to be gifted with a furious sanity. They have seen their future,
and they don’t want to be part of it.

But for me, the scandal
has not been solely that innocent people have had the threat of murder
charges hanging over their heads for committing a clear act of mercy. It
is that people are having to go to another country to die; it should
be possible to die with benign assistance here.

You do not
have to read much social history, or move in medical circles, to reach
the conclusion that the profession has long seen it as part of its remit
to help the dying die more comfortably.

Victorians expected to die at home, undoubtedly assisted by the medical profession.

In those days there was no such thing as drug control—just as there was
no gun control. Laudanum and opiates were widespread and everyone knew
you could get your hands on them. Sherlock Holmes was one of them!

As a young journalist I once listened in awe as a ninety-year-old
former nurse told me how she helped a dying cancer patient into the
great beyond with the aid of a pillow. In the absence of any better
medication in that time and place, and with his wife in hysterics at the
pain he was forced to endure, death was going to be a friend; it was
life, life gone wild, that was killing him.

“We called it ‘pointing them to heaven’,” she told me.

Decades later, I mentioned this to another, younger nurse, who gave me a
blank look, and then said: “We used to call it ‘showing them the way’.”

Then she walked off quickly, aware that she had left a hostage to fortune.

I have been told that doctors do not like patients to worry that,
theoretically, their GP has the expertise to kill them. Really?

I suspect that even my dentist has the means to kill me. It does not
worry me in the slightest, and I imagine that, like many other people, I
would be very happy for the medical profession to help me over the

I have written a living will to that effect, and indeed
this article in the Mail on Sunday will be evidence of my determination
in this matter. I cannot make the laws but you have no idea how much I
hope those in a position to do so will listen.

In the course
of the past few years, I have met some delightful people who say they
have a passion for caring and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt
them. Can they accept, however, that there are some people who have a
burning passion not to need to be cared for?

It appears to be
an item of faith with many people I have spoken to that both doctors and
nurses, at least in hospital, still have “things they can do” when the
patient is in extremis.

I certainly hope this is true, but I
wish we could blow away the clouds obscuring the issue and embrace the
idea of ending, at their request, the life of a terminally ill person
at a time and, if possible, a place of their choosing.

I write
this as someone who has, regrettably, become famous for having
Alzheimer’s. Although being famous is all the rage these days, it’s fame
I could do without.

I know enough to realize there will not be
a cure within my lifetime and I know the later stages of the disease
can be very unpleasant. Indeed, it’s the most feared disease among the

Naturally, I turn my attention to the future.
There used to be a term known as “mercy killing.” I cannot believe it
ever had any force in law but it did, and still does, persist in the
public consciousness, and in general the public consciousness gets it