Monday, January 23, 2012


Files at the Dignitas offices in Zurich, where more than 150 Britons have ended their lives. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I never knew there was so much tea involved in death. "Would you like a cup of tea?" Peter Smedley asks Sir Terry Pratchett, before they settle down to talk about dying.

In Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die, He explores the realities of medically assisted death. Having been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2008, Terry considers how he might choose to end his life as his condition progresses. In a moving documentary he meets those who, like him, would like to control the way they die including a men suffering from degenerative conditions and he is with a British motor neurone sufferer as he carries out an assisted death at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.


Dying Together. The Euthanasia of Sir Edward and Lady Downes

"The son of one of Britain’s most respected musicians told yesterday how he wept as he watched his father and mother die hand in hand at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Zurich. Distinguished orchestral conductor Sir Edward Downes, 85, and his 74-year-old wife Joan died from barbiturate poisoning as their children sat with them. Lady Downes had terminal cancer of the liver and pancreas while her husband was nearly blind and increasingly deaf.

Their son Caractacus, 41, said: ‘They drank a small quantity of clear liquid and then lay down on the beds next to each other. ‘They wanted to be next to each other when they died. They held hands across the beds. Within a couple of minutes they were asleep and they died within ten minutes."

A building used by Dignitas for assisted suicides.

"The Dignitas experience: 'It was all a bit scruffy, but it didn't seem to matter" John Larrett  

"We went off to the famous flat in Zurich, which was an ordinary modern block. It was a very nondescript looking place. Some chap who worked for Dignitas introduced himself. They're continually asking the whole time if you want to go through with it, saying it's fine if you want to pull out, even right to the end, when they're mixing up the poison. But no, she was absolutely determined to do it. It wasn't soft lights and soft music, it was all a bit scruffy in a way, but it didn't seem to matter. I can't remember quite what we said to each other in those last minutes, something like, 'Good luck, have a good trip', or,  'Thank you for the happy times we've had'.

The man mixed up this potion. It was quite quick actually. She had this straw and she really sucked it down in a big way. She didn't sip, she really went for it. Within about a minute and a half she was shaking a bit on the bed and I was holding on to her, and then eventually, bang, that was it. I was left sitting there with Diana's dead body for about 20 minutes. It was a bit peculiar. I thought: 'Well, this is it.'

Then we flew back. The flight home was rather odd. I didn't feel bad about it – I felt glad it had happened but pretty empty, really. I was thinking, 'Oh God, and now I've got to carry on with things on my own', which I hadn't really thought about before. We'd left at about nine in the morning and got back about 10 at night. It all happened in one day. Her cousin dropped me off – I remember he had this Jag – and there I was on my own. That was it, finished. I do think about it occasionally. I miss not having Diana around, it's been quite lonely.

But I don't have any regrets about what she decided to do, absolutely no doubt about it at all. I'm delighted that Debbie Purdy won on Thursday. Anything that means that the law can be altered so people with horrible, incurable diseases can end their lives if they choose to is excellent.,  

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