Terry Pratchett – Choosing To Die: Human Rights or Wrongs?


In tonight’s highly controversial BBC2 documentary Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die the famed author and outspoken advocate of assisted suicide will present the case for an individual’s right to choose the manner in which they meet their maker and cause a flurry of debate on this subject of euthanasia.

Following his 2007 diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Pratchett has campaigned for the British government to legalise assisted suicide (a term he admits to being rather uncomfortable with). His latest bid is a documentary in which he interviews various sufferers of terminal illness, culminating with a trip to Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas. While there he bears witness the death of Motor Neurone Sufferer, Peter, in what will be the film’s most controversial moment.

The BBC have been described as “pathologically liberal” by some, but the programme’s makers have stressed that this is not solely a one-sided film lending its unwavering support to the legalisation of assisted suicide. “The programme looks at all of these issues in some detail, but in no way does Pratchett wave a one-sided flag for assisted death,” says Charlotte Moore, Commissioning Editor for documentaries. “Terry meets and is moved by a motor neurone disease sufferer who has chosen to stay in the UK and opted for hospice care; he struggles with the decision of a younger man with multiple sclerosis who has chosen to take his own life; he is particularly moved by Peter’s (another motor neurone disease sufferer’s) long journey to Dignitas, and finds watching the final stage extremely difficult.â€?

After the film’s 9pm showing, BBC2 is airing a special Newsnight debate, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, to discuss in detail the myriad of issues surrounding not only the morality of assisted suicide, but also the BBC’s decision to commission such a film.

Only last month in the final episode of Inside The Human Body the BBC controversially aired the last moments of an 84-year-old Cancer sufferer amid claims of sensationalism for the sake of viewing figures. The BBC were quick to defend the programme’s message however, saying: “Death is an important part of the human experience, and showing Gerald’s death is integral to understanding what happens to the body when it is no longer able to function properly. The BBC does not shy away from difficult subjects like this, but presents them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.â€?

Debate is rife among the press with both advocates and opponents asserting their morality over one another and pro-life groups have been quick to criticise the programme.

“The BBC is acting like a cheerleader for legalising assisted suicide. It is regrettable that a man’s death will be shown on screen. But we are also concerned that this documentary will not be balanced. Given Sir Terry Pratchett’s position, the fear is that it will show all the supposed benefits of assisted death with very little redress,â€? said Peter Saunders, director Care Not Killing.

While Telegraph columnist, Ceri Radford said: “I doubt whether many people who watched a preview screening of the film would recognise the view, put forward by anti-euthanasia campaigners, that it ‘glorifies’ suicide. I found it almost unbearably sad.â€?

It is a debate that will rage on and on, long after the airing of tonight’s film, and sensationalised or not, assisted suicide is a topic that’s not likely to disappear anytime soon.