'This wallpaper will be the death of me,' Oscar Wilde purportedly said on his deathbed. 'One of us will have to go.' This witticism (probably apocryphal) crossed my mind as I watched last night's Terry Pratchett documentary, Choosing To Die. Finding yourself in a box-like building on the edge of an industrial estate outside Zurich, surrounded by weird people and deeply hideous decor, which of us would not opt to give up the ghost? This much-hyped, much-controversialised film made for gripping, sometimes harrowing viewing. If it was, as its opponents were making out (long before they'd seen it), propaganda for assisted dying, it was notably ineffective. It left me exactly where I was before - i.e. strongly in favour of assisted dying and strongly against it. It seems to me that the arguments on both sides are so persuasive that they cancel each other out. Legislation would be all but impossible to draft, and would most likely make matters worse rather than better. Meanwhile, I think the best hope lies in greatly improved palliative care and a more liberal hand with the morphine.
The Pratchett film was much touted as breaking taboos by showing a man's dying moments. Well, that's actually been done (and faked) before in TV documentaries, and anyway Pratchett's film showed only a heavily edited and sanitised version of the death. What was left in, oddly, was the most disturbing moment in the film - when the dying man had some kind of coughing fit, asked urgently for water and was refused. It looked rather as if the poor man was experiencing the very choking that he feared if he allowed his Motor Neurone Disease to progress. As for taboo-breaking, I'll believe TV is in that business when I see a documentary that shows the abortion of a viable baby and seriously addresses the ethical issues involved. Our moral blind spot in that area will, I suspect, amaze and appall future generations.