British author Pratchett defends suicide film

14th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

British author Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's, on Tuesday defended making a film showing a man dying at an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain and anti-euthanasia campaigners complained that the programme "Choosing to Die", broadcast by the BBC on Monday, could prompt copycat suicides.

Pratchett told the BBC he made the film "because I was appalled at the current situation. I know that assisted dying is practised in at least three places in Europe and also in the United States."

The film showed Pratchett watching as Peter Smedley, 71, a British man with motor neurone disease, travels to the Dignitas clinic near Zurich where he takes a fatal dose of barbiturates.

"Peter wanted to show the world what was happening and why he was doing it," said Pratchett, whose books about Discworld, a flat universe balanced on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on a giant turtle, have sold 55 million copies worldwide.

The writer was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in 2008 and now campaigns on the issue.

Dignitas has gained notoriety over the past decade by offering more than 1,000 foreigners, mainly terminally ill people, the opportunity to take advantage of relatively permissive Swiss laws.

Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing, a British group that opposes assisted suicide, called on the government to investigate the broadcast, saying it breached media guidelines on the portrayal of suicide.

"We are very worried about the danger of copycat suicide or suicide contagion," he said.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, said the programme was "propaganda on one side".

"Life is a gift and it has infinite value and we are not competent to take it, we do not have the right to take it, except perhaps in the most extreme circumstances of protecting the weak," he said.

Under British law, assisted suicide can be punished with a jail term of up to 14 years, but the subject is highly controversial, following a series of court cases in which people have helped loved ones to die.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article