Euthanasia: Mrs Pratchett doesn't want him to do it
Novelist’s film was provocative and very moving - but his wife wants to care for him to the end
NOVELIST Terry Pratchett's BBC documentary about assisted suicide, Choosing To Die, in which 71-year-old Peter Smedley was shown ending his life at the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, was finally aired last night. After all the pre-broadcast furore, how did the critics respond?
It was an emotional journey. Pratchett is considering assisted suicide himself, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago, and Arifa Akbar in the Independent felt the film could not have failed to leave viewers unmoved or unprovoked.
"His tone was personal and inquisitive, and there was enough doubt to give his outlook psychological texture and moral complexity: 'I know a time will come when words will fail me, when I can't write my books. I'm not sure I will want to go on living. Is it possible for someone like me and you to arrange for themselves a death that they want?'
"The question was clearly a wrenching task for Pratchett, who wiped away tears on numerous occasions and asked himself what he would want when it came to the crunch."
The end is painful. Catherine Gee in the Daily Telegraph was similarly moved by Pratchett's reaction to what he learnt at Dignitas, especially in the scene where Smedley, suffering from motor neurone disease, passed away.
"He [Pratchett] tried to remain stony-faced but the camera saw his rising emotion. Smedley's stoic wife, Christine, similarly held back her tears until he was gone.
"We saw Smedley sit on the sofa, politely thank those around him and shake Pratchett's hand. He drank the poison and made some gasping noises before falling deeply asleep. Then we saw him dead. We did not see his last breath."
Gee was not the only reviewer to remark on the Smedley's 'last gasp' or 'death rattle'.
Alex Hardy in the Times wrote: "Pratchett... saw this as a 'happy event' as a man with motor neurone disease passed away 'more or less' peacefully in the arms of his wife, Christine. Others with whom I watched found the contrary: smarting, instead, at the abrasiveness of Peter's last rasp."
Sam Wollaston of the Guardian wrote: "There's a moment, when the poison takes its grip, when it's very hard to watch. For a very short time Peter's not calm, he's uncomfortable and in pain, he wants but doesn't get water. It lasts only a few seconds, then he's asleep, but it's not nice. That would frighten me, I think..."
Can anyone agree? That said, Wollaston was won over by Pratchett's film. "Everything about this moving but not over-sentimental film really makes me think assisted death for the terminally ill is not just a good idea but a human right (more importantly Pratchett feels the same and the news at the weekend was that he's signed up)."
Yet, Pratchett's own wife is not in agreement, noted Catherine Gee in the Telegraph: she did not want appear in her husband's film and does not want him to take his own life. She would prefer to look after him until the very end.
"He [Pratchett] also met a former taxi driver who had motor neurone disease and, after considering Dignitas, had chosen to live out his days in a hospice. But Pratchett knows he wants to make that choice himself. 'I know the time will come when words will fail me,' he said. 'Then, I don't want to go on living.' " ·
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