A healthy retired British nurse who had worked with the elderly has ended her life in a Swiss clinic because she was afraid of getting old and being unable to to kill herself, a British newspaper reported Monday.
Gill Pharoah, 75, who suffered no serious debilitating illness and was still active, was given a lethal injection and was in good enough spirits to joke with a doctor before she died, the London Times newspaper reported.
Pharoah was afraid of suffering a stroke as happened to one of her friends, who then lived on for many years with a poor quality of life, the paper reported.
Pharoah was accompanied to the Swiss clinic in Basel by her long-time partner, John Southall, 70, who told the paper his partner would still be alive if Britain allowed people to make living wills asking that they should be helped to die if they lost the ability to kill themselves.
Pharoah’s case is likely to revive an already vigorous debate in Britain about assisted suicide, or euthanasia.
Those against the practice will likely raise fears that softening the law might encourage healthy, active people like Pharoah to end their lives prematurely, the paper reported. Those in favor of such a law being enacted may point to the desperate fear that drove a person like Pharoah to end her life outside of Britain because she was frightened to become old and infirm in her own country.
In an interview with the Sunday Times shortly before her death at the Lifecircle assisted-death clinic on July 21, Pharoah, a highly-active retiree, said: “I have looked after people who are old, on and off, all my life. I have always said, ‘I am not getting old. I do not think old age is fun.’ I know that I have gone just over the hill now. It is not going to start getting better. I do not want people to remember me as a sort of old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley.”
She told the Sunday Times yesterday that she had “so many friends with partners who, plainly, are a liability. I know you shouldn’t say that but I have this mental picture in my head of all you need to do, at my age, is break a hip and you are likely to go very much downhill from that.”
Three weeks before her death, Pharoah was entertaining friends in the back yard of her London home, and joking with them about the pale legs of her partner, who she had been with for 25 years, the Sunday Times reported.
Her partner told the London Times that Pharoah, was “terrified of having a stroke because she had a close friend who always was a member of Exit (a voluntary euthanasia society) but who had a stroke and was then bed bound for 10 years in a very pathetic state that she herself would have hated and Gill hated to see.”
“If we had laws in this country where you could write an advance directive and say ‘If I have a stroke that disables me, I would like medical assistance to die,” she wouldn’t have had the fear of the stroke,” he was quoted as saying. “I am sure she would have been happy to stay around for longer. She couldn’t do that and therefore wasn’t prepared to take the risk.”
Having to travel to the clinic in Switzerland to be able to end her life caused Pharoah many additional, unnecessary difficulties, Southall said, the London Times reported.
“She had to arrange foreign currency transfers to pay and arrange to fly there,” he said. “On the last day or so of your life you don’t really want to have to go through airports. It would be nice if you could do it at home.”
A 2014 study by Zurich University found that 611 people had traveled to Switzerland to end their lives between 2008 and 2012 with 126 of them from the UK, the Sunday Times reported.
“We went to a hotel and a doctor came and gave her a doctor’s interview and then we went out for dinner and the following morning we presented ourselves at the clinic which carried out the job,” Southall was quoted as saying. “I then telephoned her son and daughter and got a lift back to the airport and flew back to the U.K. It probably made me a bit less fearful of it. Frankly I would be more afraid of going to a dentist.”
Pharoah, from London, leaves a daughter in California and a son and grandson in Australia. She had worked as a hospital and community nurse, spending the last half of her career in elder care.
Pharoah, the author of two books, had written to the Times in February in support of limiting expensive drug treatments for elderly patients. Pharoah’s two books are entitled “How to Manage Family Illness at Home” and “Careers in Caring.”
Pharoah suffered intermittent back pain, but was on no medication, her partner was quoted as saying.
“I am an old person (73) and an ex-nurse and I do not understand why so many oldies are obsessed with getting every available treatment available,”she wrote the newspaper at the time.
“The fact is that many old people are a burden on society. Like all nurses, I have cared for the elderly as well as I could, but there were many occasions when I wondered why we were doing it. People who cannot accept this argument should work for a few months in a care home where many patients are demented, incontinent, unable to care for themselves, and have no visitors. I would like to be able to apply for a prescription which could be used if I ever feel like a quiet and peaceful exit before things get too bad.”
Before her death, she told the Sunday Times newspaper that her two children were “backing her, although it is not their choice. My daughter is a nurse and she said ‘intellecutally I know where you are coming from but emotionally I am finding it really hard’ and I know she is.”
Deane reported from Rome.