In July 2015 Gill Pharaoh, a 75-year-old nurse from North London, booked herself into the Lifecircle Centre near Basel and gave herself a fatal dose of medication. This was quite deliberate – but she was not terminally ill.
She was suffering from shingles and associated neuropathic pain. No medication was effective against these ailments and there seemed little chance of improvement. Mainly, however, she did not want her future to be one of steady decline. She had spent most of her life working in care homes for the elderly and had simply decided that she did not want to be one of them. “I am not going to get old”, she said, “I do not think old age is fun”. Her husband of 25 years was with her. The accompanying staff from the Lifecircle Centre had, once again, explained the consequence of her action and asked for her confirmation that she understood. “Yes,” she said “I am going to die”. Then she opened the small valve on the cannula that the nurses had put into her vein. Within a minute she was asleep. A few minutes later she was dead. It had been quick, painless, peaceful and dignified.
Her husband, son and daughter had not wanted her to do it. For her daughter, Caron, the decision was particularly hard. They had all, however, respected her right to make that choice.
Gill Pharaoh was fortunate that, for her, the decision seems not to have been hard. She was also very fortunate in the understanding shown by her family.
If someone is in acute and continuing pain then such a decision is both logical and understandable. If they have MND or know they are in the early stages of dementia then, whether pain is present or not, the suffering caused by their knowledge of what is to come is sufficient to give justification to a medically-assisted death. Yet, Gill was in a much wider group. She felt she simply did not want to become a burden upon others, feared the indignities that always (well, almost always) accompany death and wanted to be remembered as someone with vitality and brightness.
This Guide is not intended to be any sort of analysis of thoughts like that. It is simply intended to be a source of information. What is the legal situation ? What are the alternatives? What is the cost of a journey to Dignitas or one of the other such centres ? How many such centres are there ? What are the differences between them ? Why Switzerland ? Can supportive relatives be prosecuted ? Might they forfeit any benefit from a Will? Although the absence of knowledge is very great, it is also entirely understandable. The subject is one of considerable interest; it is also very difficult to research.Read Next Section >