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Sir Terry Pratchett on life and death -

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Sir Terry Pratchett is best known for his famous fantasy books. In 2007 the author was diagnosed
with a rare form of Alzheimers. He spoke to Leigh Sales about death and his support for Euthanasia.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Sir Terry Pratchett's one of the most successful novelists in the world; in
fact, he was the best-selling writer in the United Kingdom until J.K. Rowling came along with Harry
Potter.

Four years ago, Sir Terry was diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's and he's since
become a passionate advocate of euthanasia.

We spoke in Sydney.

Terry Pratchett, welcome to the program. I read that one of your British fans drove for a day to go
to one of your book signings and then he stood in the freezing rain for six hours and he said
afterwards that it was worth it to see you because you're an incredible writer and an incredibly
nice man. Do compliments get any better than that?

TERRY PRATCHETT, WRITER: Oh, yeah. I get kissed by the ladies. Which is - I think that's better
than that, to tell you the truth. Yeah. After a while, you just learn to, you know, smile and have
a (inaudible) and all the rest of it. You get very embarrassed, for heaven's sake, 'cause you know
when you go home you're just your wife's husband and you've gotta go and clean out the cat box.

LEIGH SALES: It must be such a nice privilege though to have a job where people want to tell you
how much they appreciate you. It's not like if you're lift maintenance guy and, you know, this life
...

TERRY PRATCHET: Well I always tell the lift maintenance guy that I'm really pleased that we
actually got to the bottom in one piece. But it becomes part of the job. And there is a dark side,
because you do a lot of things for the fans because, you know, I suppose you want to maintain their
image and you don't want them to find out what a terrible old curmudgeon you are really.

LEIGH SALES: Your book sales are in the millions, you have millions of fans. I've mentioned how
zealous they are.

TERRY PRATCHET: Many millions.

LEIGH SALES: But you've recently become known beyond the fans of your books because you've gone
public to discuss the fact that you have a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. And you've become an
advocate for the right to assisted death. What made you decide to do that?

TERRY PRATCHET: Well when I first thought - when I was sitting there thinking about the Alzheimer's
and I thought, well, what I'd like is, you know, let's hang out and do the best we can and then I'd
very much like to have a lie down in the sunshine somewhere listening to Thomas Tallis on the iPod
after a nice brandy and a nice, friendly doctor will give me the little jab which would just send
me away. And I had so much mail after that. Most of it, by far the most of it, was from people who
agreed and said, "Yes, that's exactly right. That's what we want. Why, if you're old and lame and
you can't be cured and the disease is getting worse every day, are you expected to grin and bear it
just because someone would like to care for you?" It's not up to them. It is up to you.

LEIGH SALES: So what role do you think that governments should have in this issue? Because it's
treated as a societal issue rather than a an individual issue.

TERRY PRATCHET: It's an individual issue. It should be - the fact that one person has an assisted
death does not mean that anyone else by any means should have one. I'm actually clear on this and
so is everybody else that does it. And if you go to Switzerland for example where they do allow
foreigners to die, which I think shames everybody involved, the person who wants to die has to make
it very clear over a period of days to a doctor that this is what they want to do and the reasons
for wanting to die are set out, because they're not all that keen on letting someone die just
because they really feel like it. It really has to be - you know, you have to be possessed of a bad
disease. But what happened is I think some of the Christian majority these days put a spoke in the
wheel and they say that - they say, "What about the sanctity of human life?" And I say, "What about
the dignity of human life?"

LEIGH SALES: In your case, with your Alzheimer's disease, what effect is having it on you so far?
Because people watching this interview'll be thinking, "He's talking very well, he's completely
lucid. I can't see anything wrong."

TERRY PRATCHET: Talk to me again in two years time. It's a cumulative thing. But also ...

LEIGH SALES: Are you noticing it having an effect on you yet?

TERRY PRATCHET: Yes. Bits drop out. The short-term memory has gone and so has the short-term
memory. The short-term memory - OK, little jokes won't be so funny in the fullness of time, but
laughter is the best medicine.

LEIGH SALES: Well you have a reputation in your books for being able to wring humour out of dark
situations.

TERRY PRATCHET: Oh, indeed. PCA, which is a posterior cortical atrophy, that means that my problems
are more or less with if you put a glass down on that table, I'd have to, look - (touching table
and glass) table, glass, in other words, I wouldn't just pick it up. It's depth vision and all
kinds of weird things often to do with your sight. Nothing wrong with the sight, but the parts of
the brain dealing with the sight have some difficulty.

LEIGH SALES: Are you afraid of death?

TERRY PRATCHET: No!

LEIGH SALES: He's a rather likely character in the books.

TERRY PRATCHET: Yes. Yes. He owes me a lot of money.

LEIGH SALES: He's made you a lot of money.

TERRY PRATCHET: But who can be afraid of death? What's there to be afraid of?

LEIGH SALES: Well the unknown.

TERRY PRATCHET: Oh, no, I treasure the unknown. It's the here and now that worries me. Oh, my word.
No, it's what people dread is the dying, not the death. And that's why I think assisted dying comes
in. It goes - it takes you from the life to the death without the inconvenient bit in the middle.

LEIGH SALES: And how will you know for yourself when it's time to go?

TERRY PRATCHET: I thought it was about last Thursday, meself, but I had a convention to attend.
What I really like is what they do in - is it Wyoming? Not Wyoming. I've forgotten.

LEIGH SALES: Oh, Oregon.

TERRY PRATCHET: Oregon, that's right. Once you're diagnosed with the disease and they suggest you
are a candidate, let's fix the thing, they give you the potion. The thing is, there is some
evidence that people live longer. They know that they could die if they took this medicine, but,
"It's a nice day today and it doesn't feel too bad and the wife is cooking a really good dinner,
so, maybe I'll die tomorrow." And then tomorrow, "Oh, well, the grandchildren are coming. Maybe
I'll die tomorrow." And one guy who was expected to die within two years was still going after
three years, because every day he did the most human thing: he decided whether he was going to die
and he decided whether he was going to live. Animals can't do that. It's nice to think that man
can. It's perhaps one of the greatest things we can ever do.

LEIGH SALES: Sir Terry, it's been so lovely to meet you. Thankyou very much.

TERRY PRATCHET: Thankyou.

LEIGH SALES: And an extended 20-minute of that version with Sir Terry Pratchett will be available
shortly on our website.