A perfectly healthy British nurse ended her life abruptly through medically assisted suicide because she was afraid of ageing and lacking the physical capacity to kill herself, sparking debate on the ethics and legality of assisted suicide. The retired nurse had cared for the elderly for the most part of her final years and simply decided she no longer wished to live.
Gill Pharoah, a 75-year-old healthy Briton who was still active and lacked any debilitative illnesses, died by lethal injection on July 21 in a Swiss clinic.
Pharoah was accompanied from her home in Britain to the clinic by her partner for many years, John Southall, 70. Pharoah said she wanted to do the procedure because she was terrified of suffering a stroke and becoming a liability as her friend had done.
Southall reported that the two went to Switzerland where they met a doctor in a hotel. The doctor proceeded to give them a doctor’s interview and when that was over, they went out for dinner together. The next morning, Pharoah reported to the clinic where she was given the fatal injection. Southall reported that even after the injection, Pharoah was sober enough to joke with the doctor.
In an interview with Sunday Times before her death, Pharoah had 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.’ 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.”
The issue of self assisted suicide has raised international debate for a long time. In Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal, a study in 2014 by Zurich University revealed that between 2008 and 2012, 611 people had travelled to the country to take the injection.
In the U.S., the practice is gaining traction albeit amidst widespread opposition. Oregon just recently legalized physician-assisted suicide. In the state of Washington, Montana physician assisted suicide is perfectly legal. In May 20, 2013 in Vermont, doctor prescribed suicide was declared legal as a “medical treatment.”
Opposition for the treatment has been strong. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington V. Glucksberg declared there was no federal constitutional right to assisted suicide. In the states of California, Maine and Michigan, where the right has gone to the ballot in a referendum, it was rejected overwhelmingly.
Pharoah’s death by assisted suicide is the latest reported incident of practiced euthanasia. Pharoah leaves behind her partner and two kids.
Euthanasia has been condemned because it is plain suicide. The U.S. constitution stands for the right to life thereby precluding anyone from taking life, including their own. However that seemingly simple stance is increasingly being questioned by a more clinical and pragmatic attitude surrounding ageing and death.