Review – Shaking Hands With Death

Cover of Shaking Hands with Death by Terry PratchettShaking Hands With Death, Terry Pratchett

This short book contains an essay based very closely on a speech Terry Pratchett gave, with the help of Tony Robinson, about assisted dying and, more widely, the end of life, autonomy, and dying in the way you choose. It’s a subject pretty close to my heart, as it’s always been a subject I felt was important to debate about, and all my family are aware of my wishes if I can’t make decisions for myself anymore.

The problem is that gap where you can make the decision, but you need help to carry it through successfully. It’s not just a passing whim or a cry for help: it’s a genuine feeling that to end it now would be wise, and that there’s no hope of going anywhere but downhill; not a decision based solely on mood, obviously, but one which takes into account medical realities. I think people should be able to make that choice and, having settled things the way they need to, follow through. I have always maintained that I would rather a friend or family member die suddenly than slowly decline, particularly when that decline includes a loss of mental function. Were a family member of mine to ask me, I’d strongly consider agreeing to help them. I’d have no ethical objections, as long as they had capacity at the point of making the decision.

So I’ve always been strongly in support of Pratchett’s decisions around this, and his campaign for a change in the law. Given that, I’m not sure the extent to which someone else would find Pratchett’s arguments convincing. Still, I thought his arguments were clear and direct, without sentimentality but with feeling. I teared up a couple of times, reading this, and had the strong urge to find and hand my mother a copy so we could talk about it.

Rating: 5/5

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5 thoughts on “Review – Shaking Hands With Death

  1. This was the hardest part of ‘A Slip of the Keyboard’ (where it was included) to read, not least because it was the longest, the most justifyingly bitter and the starkest of the pieces there.

    Neil Gaiman’s introduction drew attention to Terry’s close-to-the-surface anger, and that comes through clearly here. An important issue on which he was unenviably well informed.

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