A week in the death of Terry Pratchett

The best-selling author and Alzheimer's sufferer reflects on the days following his controversial right-to-die documentary


D-Day; that's Documentary Day on the calendar here in our office. We spend the morning piling into the ever-present workload until it's time to head off to watch the documentary with the director, Charlie Russell, and his family and friends.

There is just enough time for a drink and a nibble before we're on air. Absolute silence in the room except for the occasional muffled sob as the story of Peter and Andrew unfolds and, at the end, the release and the discussion. I am glad there was a discussion, because there was a lot to be discussed.

A short break and then a BBC Newsnight special with Jeremy Paxman, David Aaronovitch, Liz Carr, Dinah Rose QC, Debbie Purdy, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, who was at least open to arguments, unlike some bishops, and also, I was glad to see, Erika Preisig whom I met and admired in Switzerland.

I was also surprised to hear from Erika that a Roman Catholic priest had come to Dignitas had spoken to her, had agreed that it wasn't his time, had told her she was doing a good thing, and came back later and did indeed go through with his assisted death. I have a lot of time for Dr Preisig. She is a Christian, but understands those who beg for an assisted death; like me she has been appalled at some of the terrible outcomes of "traditional" suicides.


The documentary was not made to encourage, dismay or condone, it was made to see. I was also hoping that it would lead to discussion and it certainly has done so.

And under Jeremy Paxman's tactful arbitration, views were aired and discussed in a reasonably civilised way. With a sigh of relief, my assistant Rob and I hurtled into the city to grab what rest we could before getting, in my case, no more than two hours' sleep before heading to the sofa in the BBC Breakfast studio. Rob, sitting next to me in the cab, was trying to keep up with the tweets and reported that they were coming in at a rate of more than one a second with an approval/disapproval rating of 99.9 per cent. One of the objections being against Rob's Russian naval officer's hat, which he thinks is rather spiffy, but there is no accounting for taste. Other online discussions seemed positive too, with objections being more about the running of Dignitas than whether assisted dying should be available here in the UK.

As I feel I have to keep saying, I don't want to be a publicist for Dignitas, but the unfortunate fact is that for a Briton who wants an assisted death, Dignitas represents the only choice and five more of our citizens have quietly made their way there since the documentary was filmed.

Then we stagger into another couple of interviews before again meeting the director to learn that there had been 1,219 complaints to the BBC and 301 calls in favour, making it one of the top 10 programmes this year for appreciation. We were also told the complaints showed some evidence of lobbying; I just bet they did. The good people at the Care not Killing alliance certainly know how to use a telephone.

Then it's back home to catch up on sleep and to find that Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, wishes to tell me that real life is not like science fiction. Actually, sir, it is. I live in a science-fiction world and so does he; the stents in my heart are science fiction and so are the little pills that go some way to make my Alzheimer's bearable.

A very large number of things which we take for granted were science fiction once and some others were never science fiction, because not even science-fiction writers had imagined them. The bishop ought to respect science fiction; he's living in it.

And once again he triumphantly delivers the ever-present question: how, if assisted dying is allowed in the UK, do you safeguard the vulnerable? This is without fail trotted out by all those against the idea and is delivered as if it is the killer argument.

As the documentary says, there are four countries in Europe that practice some form of assisted dying and recently the Swiss voted in a referendum to maintain the practice. They even voted in favour to continue to allow the so-called death tourism for those unfortunates, like the British, who make their way to Dignitas.

This does not sound like people who are living in a world where innocent citizens are being killed against their will?


We start trawling through the interminable number of emails that had arrived while we were asleep and we find that many viewers had been touched and impressed by the testimony of Veerla Claus-De Wit, whose husband Hugo was given his request for an assisted death by sympathetic and caring doctors. He had the same disease as I have and I certainly took that one to heart.

There are those that would never accept the concept of assisted dying, it seems, and it does look, sitting here looking at the emails still coming in, that this country, if not our Government, is thinking constructively. Sniping is, of course, going on from various newspapers that we are picking up. However, there are thoughtful columns as well, but I must say that Alex Hardy's inconsiderate sneer in The Times at Christine Smedley, a woman endeavouring to put a brave face on the death of her husband, was execrable.

I wouldn't have expected that even from the Daily Mail.


Right now we are sitting in the Chapel, which is covered with stacks of books that must be signed and sent to New Orleans post haste, and still the emails and letters are coming in and we are getting requests from countries around the world to talk about the documentary.

Not quite sure about that.

I would like to see carefully controlled assisted dying available in the UK, which is why I helped fund a commission of the great and the good who have an open mind on the subject and a working knowledge of the mechanics and expectations of this country, to see whether sensible arrangements should be put in place that would be acceptable to the population at large, so that in the fullness of time stricken people who do not wish to be prisoners of their disease can at least die with dignity in their own countries.

But when the British Government is unresponsive, then individual citizens must try to move things along and, for now, we are going to write a book, and it's not about death.


Last night the BBC's Question Time was held in Scotland and, of course, the issue came up. Not so long ago I recall another BBC Question Time in Scotland, where the issue was raised and got some very short shrift.

This time the panel, while not all on side, spoke carefully and thoughtfully to a very respectful audience which seemed, for the most part, to be open minded on the subject. The world changes, but slowly.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little