Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Shaking hands with death

Much has been written lately about the legality, or otherwise, of assisted suicide. The flood of coverage is, in part, due to the trial of Kay Gilderdale, a woman accused of attempted murder because she helped her chronically ill daughter die. For once, common sense has prevailed, and after a protracted trial a jury took just two hours to throw the case out, and Kay can get on with trying to rebuild her life.

With this in mind, it seems entirely fitting that the BBC's annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture should be on the subject on how we, confronted with an increasingly older and often ailing population, need to redefine how we deal with death. The lecture was written by Sir Terry Pratchett, the author, but, because of the constraints a form of early-onset Alzheimer's places on him, it was delivered (with passion and style) by his friend, the actor Tony Robinson.

In case you think I'm a Pratchett fan, I'm not. I've never read anything of his - somehow it just doesn't appeal. But his thoughts on death, and how we deal with it - specifically, what might constitute a sensible approach to dealing with deaths that may warrant "assistance" - seem to me to be entirely realistic, pragmatic, and well thought out. Beyond that, I'm not going to try to convert anyone to my way of thinking - how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, as a great man once said, but whilst the law remains unclear then that choice will rightly remain a personal ideology.

Having said that... whatever your views on the subject, Pratchett's Richard Dimbleby lecture was 50 minutes of compelling and thought-provoking television. It's available to watch for the next seven days on the inestimable iPlayer, and I urge you to go and catch it whilst you can.

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