BBC, Britain, Dignitas, Euthanasia, Human Rights Act, Suicide, Terry Pratchett

Burying The Pratchett: We Must Not Legalise Euthanasia

So, the iconoclastic Left redoubles its attack on the greatest injunction of them all: Do not murder. Predictably, the “impartial” BBC is at hand to coax and cheer for a change in the law to make assisted suicide legal. This was evidenced by the deeply partial documentary Choosing to Die originally broadcast on BBC2 at 21:00 on Monday the 13th of June.  The bien pensant who fronted the BBC’s propagandist documentary was Sir Terry Pratchett, the novelist and Alzheimer’s disease sufferer.

I was aware of Pratchett’s novels; I was aware he dressed entirely in black as if to contrast himself with the strikingly garish covers of his books; I was aware of his campaigning for the legalisation of euthanasia.

I had never seen him before and it was hard to come away from the documentary not liking him. He seems to be a thoughtful, sensitive man. However, I think he is wrong. I think assisted suicide is wrong.

For a start the phrase “assisted suicide” is an abuse of language. Suicide means to kill oneself (sui- self, –cide killing). This is not an unimportant definition, nor a literary curiosity, because it reveals the paradox embedded in the concept of “assisted suicide”; because if death is caused by the hands of someone else then it is not suicide. It is murder. It has to be.

By calling it “assisted suicide” we make it sound more palatable, indeed we make it sound palliative. We are even told, by invocation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), that people should have the right to die. We live in an age where we are obsessed with our “rights”, largely thanks to Human Rights Convention. But death is a fact, not a right.  (The same misconception occurs too at the other end of the life-cycle when infertile couples profess the right to have children. Childbirth is not a right, it is a fact).

Language is important in this debate. Note how article 8 of the ECHR was invoked to equate the right to self-determination with the right to self-termination. Only two small letters have disappeared but the meaning is completely altered.

I have read article 8 of the ECHR. There is nothing in it that could possibly justify assisted suicide:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Can anyone tell me where there might be a scintilla of suggestion that a man should have the right to have himself killed? I doubt it. Article 8 prescribes a right to a private life free of state interference, not a private death. (Somewhat rich considering that the European Union is the most soviet-style state intrusion ever visited upon Britain).

It is significant that the ECHR is employed, however craftily. The ECHR (in particular its British redrafting as The Human Rights Act) is a weapon of the Left who wish to destroy conservative Britain, the left who want to raze its Christian foundations. That pesky injunction not to kill somewhat undermines their generalised support for abortion and, I expect, imminent generalised support for euthanasia.

Euthanasia is, in and of itself, morally wrong. I have had conversations with people on the Left who disagree with euthanasia but will not bring themselves to object to it on a moral basis. I suspect this is because it would require a concession to the conservative values they despise so much. Instead, they reject it on a practical basis: That legalising euthanasia will compel unscrupulous people to arrange the death of someone old and infirm because the old and infirm are inconvenient or it is profitable to do so.

Whether they care to admit it or not, this practical objection is ultimately a moral one.

I ask those who would impose yet another cultural revolution on us to consider this: Getting rid of the undesirable and inconvenient was a practice of the most atrocious left-wing regimes of the 20th century.

It is only because of this current left-wing milieu that legalisation of euthanasia is even possible.

Unless many of our cultural revolutions are undone and others, such as this drive to legalise euthanasia, are resisted, even the most ardent reformers, revolutionaries and atheists will hate Britain once it has fulfilled all of their prophecies.

I would also encourage the euthanasia lobby to acknowledge their own lack of confidence in their campaign. Terry Pratchett himself is a hypocrite. He confesses to changing his mind every two minutes. How can someone so undecided usher others down the corridor of death? Who gave him the right to advocate others taking a course of action that they cannot reverse when he still has the luxury of changing his mind?

Terry Pratchett prioritises the completion of his new novel above his will to die. His purpose trumps his disease. Seen in this light, it is obvious that electing to be murdered can never be right. Can never be a right. He could take a flight over to Switzerland and have a compelling idea for a new novel in mid-air. But once the one-way ticket to Switzerland is bought, once the chair in Dignitas is booked, there is pride and pressure to not change one’s mind back.

It was heart-wrenchingly clear, when the two main subjects of the documentary went to Dignitas to die, they wavered in their last moments. Death is too big a thing to be unsure of.

Those who embark upon a journey to Dignitas are selfish too. They love themselves more than their families. It was clear that neither family of either subject of the documentary wanted to lose their loved-one. They would have preferred to care for their loved-one up until the last moment. When marriage vows are involved, as I presume in some cases they are, then to arrange your own departure from this world and refuse to stay with your spouse is to trivialise the marriage vow.

And Dignitas – Where is the dignity there? Dignitas sounds like a party Robert Kilroy Silk would front. From the outside it looks like a Big Yellow Storage warehouse, except it in blue. And death itself is there, sweetened with cheap praline chocolates and washed down with water.

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About James Garry

James Garry is a political writer and commentator. He is the chief editor of Poltics On Toast a political magazine with a right-wing editorial bias. He believes that Britain should return to social, moral and political conservatism and that the changes since the 1960s Cultural Revolution should be undone. He wants out of the European Union and he wants capital punishment visited upon murderers, rapists and drug dealers. He is not a Thatcherite or a free-marketeer. He considers David Cameron and the rest of the Tory brigand to be liberal imposters. His other writings can be found on his personal blog James Garry on Politics in Britain and Hackeryblog


3 thoughts on “Burying The Pratchett: We Must Not Legalise Euthanasia

  1. James,

    I think your article is well written and your point cogently argued. I must, however, disagree with your conclusion.

    I did not watch Terry Pratchett’s programme. However, I did see a televised lecture he gave a year or so ago, which also aired on the BBC. Did you see that? There certainly seemed no equivocation from him in that lecture; on the contrary, he was absolute in his convictions.

    In any case, I do not think this debate is about the views of one man. Nor do I particularly feel Article 8 of the ECHR is especially relevant. Should a ‘right to die’ (or whatever it is ultimately called – you are, of course, technically right that the term ‘assisted suicide’ is misleading but this is surely but an aside in the wider context) become law, it would be through some form of new legislation for, as you correctly point out, the existing framework does not adequately provide for it.

    As you say, in the end this comes down to a moral issue. I think it is wrong to suggest that those wishing to terminate their lives are uniformly selfish. Had you not considered that, perhaps, they are behaving in exactly the opposite way by taking account of the emotional and financial burden long-term care obligations may be placing on their family? It may well be that the families in Pratchett’s documentary did not wish to lose their loved ones, but you cannot extrapolate from that that all families would not fully support a relative taking such a decision. In any case, am I not right in thinking that members of the families concerned did ultimately travel to Switzerland with the invalid? Had they really been against the choice of death, they need not have done so.

    This all comes down to individual choice. If, God forbid, I should ever suffer from, for example, a lingering cancer leading to a long-drawn out and agonising death (as my grandfather did), I want to be able to choose to end my life earlier than advanced medical treatment might otherwise permit without the fear of prosecution for any loved ones who may ultimately assist me. I really do not see a single valid reason why, if I am in that situation and compos mentis, I should not be able to make that choice. Furthermore, I should not have to travel to Switzerland to fulfil it, causing further pain and stress to any member of my family who has to accompany me.

    I would also cite personal experience again to address the other burning issue here, one which, of course, does bring me back to Alzheimers-sufferer Terry Pratchett. Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia are only going to be an increasing problem in years to come as life expectancy increases thanks to constant advances in medicine. I have watched my grandmother degenerate rapidly over the last 6 years or so into a shadow of the loving grandparent I once knew. She does not recognise any of her family, is often aggressive towards us when we visit and can no longer hold any sort of conversation. It is obviously too late for her as she is no longer compos mentis; we can do no more than watch and wait as she becomes ever more demented and hope against hope that she passes away soon. I refuse to believe that a person in that state can take any enjoyment whatsoever from life; I know I wouldn’t. It is IMPERATIVE that the law is changed to permit people to make ‘living wills’, whilst still in possession of all their faculties, to the effect that, if two independent medical experts believe them to be suffering from dementia / Alzheimers, they have the right to have their lives ended. Evidently, someone like my grandmother would not be capable of administering the necessary drugs herself. I believe, however, that there would be more than enough doctors willing to do so were the legal framework in place for that not to be a problem.

    You say that the invalids in Pratchett’s programme clearly wavered at the last. With respect, of course they did. How could any individual who has made such a momentous decision not have doubts at some stage, no matter how sure they were initially?

    I would be interested to hear your response to my points. Evidently, any new legislation would have to be extremely carefully drafted with a view to protecting those vulnerable people whom unscrupulous relatives might otherwise seek to exploit. Nevertheless, unscientific surveys I have conducted by discussing this issue with numerous people suggest that there is a large majority in the UK in favour of change and development in this area. Personally, I consider it regressive and, frankly, appalling that, in a secular country in the 21st century, we remain so in hoc to a religious minority wielding disproportionate power and influence in preventing the silent majority from being able to make a choice that should absolutely be open to them.

    Mark Boullé

    Posted by Mark Boullé | June 29, 2011, 12:11 am
  2. Mark,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I did not see Terry Pratchett’s earlier televised lecture.

    About morality you say: “Had you not considered that, perhaps, they are behaving in exactly the opposite way by taking account of the emotional and financial burden long-term care obligations may be placing on their family?”

    I’m not sure the monetary argument is sound. Free care (such as it is) is given on the NHS. As for long term care… I’d imagine that in many cases, spouses are involved. In their marriage contract, in many cases they will pledge the oath “in sickness and in health”. This oath is binding. These oaths should not (cannot) be contradicted by later actions. Otherwise they are worthless. If this oath can be broken, then so can any other oath. For richer, for poorer can be broken: “Oh, well he’s not as wealthy as my neighbour’s husband, so I’ll run away with him instead.” For better, for worse: “Well, she doesn’t look as good as she used to, so I’m leaving her.”

    My point is that oaths are oaths for a reason. If they are broken, they become meaningless. If they are broken, they open up endless possibilities for treachery.

    This is one reason why I think it is immoral to break a wedding vow to commit euthanasia. Of course, not all acts of euthanasia involve the contravention of a marriage vow.

    There are still other unintended consequences of euthanasia that could usher in to our society more amorality and immorality: If it were to be legalised here, should euthanasia be sanctioned before someone has even fallen sick? Should euthanasia only be sanctioned when someone is very sick, in which case how do we know they are in their right minds? Should doctors become involved in granting a ‘licence’ to people who want to die? Under what circumstances would these licenses be issued? Or do we allow people to make decisions on their own? What if they are cowed into assenting to euthanasia by wicked relatives? What happens if someone assents to euthanasia but the speed of their descent into sickness cannot be known? If euthanasia is legalised it becomes an industry – why should the euthanasia “industry” act morally when money is involved? If big bucks are involved, why wouldn’t people who are temporarily sad be allowed to take their lives?”

    The other problem with euthanasia is that there is a mutual justification of abortion. If the imperfect and inconvenient can be deleted at one end of the lifespan then why not at the other.

    Also, the most atrocious regimes of the 20th Century deleted imperfect and inconvenient people. This alone should make us uncomfortable about euthanasia.

    Research from the Netherlands (where euthanasia is legal) has shown that, in 1990, over half the instances of euthanasia involved a doctor killing a patient without their consent.

    “You say that the invalids in Pratchett’s programme clearly wavered at the last. With respect, of course they did. How could any individual who has made such a momentous decision not have doubts at some stage, no matter how sure they were initially?”

    Exactly. People have doubts about killing themselves. How could we know that, a second after the poison is administered, that the “patient” wouldn’t have reached a decision not to terminate his life. As you rightly say, it is a momentous decision. Too big a decision, I’d say.

    I think your argument was marred somewhat by this: “Personally, I consider it regressive and, frankly, appalling that, in a secular country in the 21st century, we remain so in hoc to a religious minority wielding disproportionate power and influence in preventing the silent majority from being able to make a choice that should absolutely be open to them.”

    Who is this religious minority? Are they are minority? How are we in hoc to them? What power do they have? Why is their power disproportionate? Who are the silent majority they silence? How are the majority silenced? What makes them a majority?

    Moreover, why should the 21st century be secular? What makes secularism so better, so advanced?

    Oh, one other thing. Whenever I have this debate with a pro-euthanasia advocate, they tell me that if “*I* were ever suffering from a painful, terminal illness *I* want the right to die.” I find this reminiscent of Don John The Bastard in Much Ado About Nothing whose self-absorption can be measured by how many times he says “I” in a passage.

    I could sympathise – even see some nobility – if they were to say “If ever a *loved one* were suffering excruciating pain…” but, no, its more often “if *I* were suffering”…


    I hope I have responded to the most salient points of your comment. If there’s anything I haven’t answered, please let me know.

    Posted by jamesgarry1979 | June 29, 2011, 10:20 pm


  1. Pingback: Why I support the reintroduction of the death penalty « Politics on Toast - August 5, 2011

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