Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Television Review

Assisted dying: we are not alone

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 15 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3772
  1. Desmond O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine, Dublin
  1. doneill{at}

What pressures does assisted dying place on loved ones? A television programme in which Terry Pratchett watches a man take his own life stirs strong feelings in Desmond O’Neill

One of the most insightful passages in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness occurs at the beginning of the novel as they cruise down the Thames, when the narrator outlines what really captivates in a narrative. To him “the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

I was reminded of this while watching the Terry Pratchett programme on assisted dying. In this documentary, the Discworld author, who was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, travels to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see assisted suicide first hand. My attention should have been grabbed by the central protagonists, Peter with motor neurone disease, Andrew with multiple sclerosis, and Terry with Alzheimer’s disease, but in …

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