I read an interview today from the Guardian (a UK news source) who interviewed Terry Pratchett, author of over 50 novels, primarily set in a fantastical world called the Disc. He is my husband’s favorite author, and features pretty highly on my list as well. We even named our cat after one of his unforgettable characters. This article wasn’t a feel-good, new-book marketing piece though. It touched on a couple of issues that I feel are worth discussion.
See, Terry Pratchett, whose latest book came out this week, has known for a while that he suffers from a rare form of Alzheimer’s. He is dying, and what’s more, he is gradually losing his ability to function. He can no longer write long-hand or type effectively. He now dictates his books using a voice recognition software, but he’s still writing. He describes himself as open to joy, but also cynical. He foresees a time when life will no longer hold meaning for him, and when he will want to seek a most appropriate ending.
Euthanasia is illegal in the UK, as it is in most of the United States. So-called assisted suicide has been deemed unethical by medical licensing bodies and doctor’s organizations alike. There is a resounding cry of “first do no harm” in the rationales given for this.
As a nurse, I have seen patients dying. Sometimes it is a quick process, unexpected and shocking. Sometimes it is foreseeable but still impossible to fathom. More often than not – in our society with advanced life support and technology and treatments, and with our mentality that the physical beating of a heart is worth saving no matter the cost to families or individuals – death is long in coming. It is often a long, drawn-out process of false hopes and crushing realities.
I don’t know where I stand on political spectrum when it comes to euthanasia, and in a way, that doesn’t even matter. I do know that my own personal definition of “do no harm” involves not extending needlessly the pain and suffering of an individual or a family. Mr. Pratchett brings up a very good point about peace of mind. He wishes to be the one to determine his end, rather than being allowed to wither away one slow day at a time, beyond the point where the man he was ceases to be.
As a writer who is currently dealing with a major health challenge of my own, I am in awe of Mr. Pratchett’s continued diligence to his chosen career, and in his willingness to tackle such a major political battle as the one for End of Life Rights. Palliative care, both in the US and the UK, has a long way to go for people like Mr. Pratchett.