Friday, March 13, 2015

Kevin Fitzpatrick: Conversation with Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett, an author and a euthanasia promoter, died a natural death at the age of 66.

By Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC International.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick
My first ‘outing’ on the assisted suicide/euthanasia debate was a student debate in Trinity College Dublin. I was very new to the subject and in truth, a very slick Phillip Nitschke wiped the floor with me. I swore it would never happen again, although something similar did, just once more, a couple of months later when the supposedly independent chair of a debate in London, Jon Snow, aggressively turned on those of us who were opposed to legalising any third party intervention in decision-making at the end of someone’s life. I have learned a great deal since then, have a much deeper understanding of the catastrophic consequences of laws permitting assisted suicide and/or euthanasia.

Another of my opponents in Trinity that evening was Sir Terry Pratchett. He asked me for a conversation afterwards, and I was happy to oblige, to try to understand his thinking and motivation better.

He struck me as an intelligent, considered, but understandably frightened man. As much as I detest what he has done to promote such terrible outcomes, I think he was genuine in his fear. He listened respectfully to me, in complete contrast to Nitschke, and we spoke for as long as possible with the queue of ardent young fans waiting for his autograph and a chance to speak to their hero. I could not deny them for very long. He was as kind to them as he had been in seeking me out in the first place.

I thought it interesting how little he seemed to be fronting the media coverage of the debate after Dublin. Though I have no insight into why, except that he won the audience hearts that night by pausing frequently to search for his words. They too reacted with natural human sympathy for a man faced with an uncertain future apart from the knowledge that death would not be far away. He did say he was finding it harder to do stints like this. Barely three and a half years later, he has died at the early age of 66, from his ‘embuggerance’, Alzheimer’s Disease.

I discovered a gentle man, concerned to listen and evaluate anew. Would that I had had the depth of knowledge I do now – at the time I had nothing to offer him that might have changed his mind. For I think he would have listened. I have no wish to be disrespectful to the man, which is more than I can say for Nitschke who, thankfully, has just been struck off by the Australian Medical Association. The contrast between an intelligent, thoughtful and deeply worried man and the other one, could not be greater. Pratchett had a warm reaction to me that led me to believe he was more in solidarity with me as a disabled man than he was with Australia’s Doctor Death.

I have said nothing since about Terry Pratchett except what I repeat here now. Some of my colleagues in opposition to legalising assisted suicide/euthanasia might find it strange, distasteful, even wrong that I should say this much about him, but on the only evidence I have, I stand by this: he was convinced by his own experience of suffering. He drew conclusions diametrically opposed to mine. But he also witnessed the death of Peter Smedley in that awful Swiss house, and so watched a man struggling to die for more than half an hour, choking to death in the most terrible way, enduring the very kind of death he had sought to avoid at all costs. How that affected the world-famous author I do not know.

If reports are to be believed he found solace in his true vocation, his writing. I hope his lasting legacy will come from that aspect of his life, which enriched so many, rather than this other campaign. I desperately hope others in the pro-death lobby will resist the urge to make political capital from his passing. But I doubt it – cynicism is their sinecure.

He died the kind of death I imagine we all want, at home with his loving family and his cat on his bed. I hope he got what he wanted, a peaceful end, painless as possible, free from distress as far as it is possible in the process of dying. For as I said, regardless of how I feel about what he was promoting and how wrong I think he was about the consequences, he was convinced and could argue for it respectfully. It is with the same respect he showed me that I say again, he was a gentleman, and I for one am sorry we have lost all the good things that Sir Terry Pratchett brought to the world not least his books that have given and will give pleasure for decades to come.

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