I can’t prove it but it wouldn’t surprise me if the e-mail and phones at the NPR ombudsman’s office are busy today, following this morning’s Morning Edition interview with Terry Pratchett. The writer is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and would like the option of taking his own life when the time is right.
He says he doesn’t use the word “suicide.”
“I prefer not to use the word ‘suicide’ because suicide is an irrational thing whereas I think that for some people asking for an assisted death is a very rational thing,”
Is he talking about people with a mental illness who kill themselves? A later portion of the interview reveals that he, in fact, is. And it raises the question of whether people dying of a physical illness should have an option denied those with a mental illness.
He says he believes it’s acceptable to have an assisted death if you’re suffering from a terminal disease, but not if you’re depressed.
“I’ve often felt depressed, everyone feels depressed,” he says.
That’s a surprising statement coming from a learned man. Sure, there is depression in the course of a day or a week, and there is depression that is part of a neurological disorder. The two are not the same.
I certainly don’t advocate the taking of one’s own life, but the assertion that “needless suffering” is cause to be allowed to end one’s own life, invites a debate on what constitutes “needless suffering” and who is morally and legally entitled to escape it.
Unfortunately, NPR chose not to explore that question.