Book review

Review: Shaking Hands with Death, Terry Pratchett

Shaking Hands with Death, Terry Pratchett


64 pages| Publisher: Corgi| Genre: Nonfiction essay

Watch the essay as read by Pratchett and Robinson on YouTube:

The digest: An absolute must read (or watch) for everyone – fan or Pratchett or not (not sure how you couldn’t be, though!). The messages herein are vital to those who will come face to face with dementia and other degenerative diseases (that’s everyone).

In this short book, we see Pratchett tackle head on the problems he faced after his diagnosis – both in terms of accepting his illness (he laments the fact that sufferers of other diseases can openly get support and medication whilst some sufferers of dementia are more or less told to get on with it), as well as assisted dying.

For those who do not know, in 2007 Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset PCA – a rare form of Alzheimer’s which, whilst not similar to typical (or more widespread) forms of the illness, has the same ‘end game’. In light of this, Pratchett publicly announced his condition, setting out to break the taboos of Alzheimer’s and assisted dying. The book is the transcript that Pratchett wrote for the 2012 Dimbleby Lecture (being the first novelist to do so), with a foreword from his PA Rob Wilkins explaining the event and why eventually it was Tony Robinson who ended up presenting the speech. I will not discuss in too much depth the examples and studies and arguments Pratchett puts forward, but the speech is only 45 minutes long, and it can be read quicker than that if needed.

This essay is poignant, Pratchett looking back to the relatively peaceful death of his grandfather, as well as the passing of his own father in comparison to how deaths were handled in the past. The author draws on his own experiences as well as those of people to whom he has spoken with to present a set of clear and concise reasons for his wish to legalise assisted dying. The base argument is essentially that everyone should have the right to a peaceful death, the Victorians understood that – as do some areas around the globe nowadays. I emphatically support the case as raised here and I hope that now, some years after the knighted author’s death, society has already softened to the end of life he wanted those in need to have access to; the choice to die surrounded by friends and family as painlessly as possible, on your own terms. In short, I support the right to have ‘a death worth dying for’. GNU Sir Terry.

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