Healthy retired nurse who ended her life 'changed her mind about the ideal age'

Healthy retired nurse who ended her life 'changed her mind about the ideal age'

The partner of a healthy former nurse who ended her life in a Swiss suicide clinic because of her experiences caring for the elderly has revealed that she changed her mind about the ideal age to end her life several times.

Gill Pharaoh, 75, said she had seen enough of old age to know that she was “going over the hill” and wanted to take action to end her life while she was able to do so.

But her partner John Southall has claimed that she changed her mind about how long she wanted to live on several occasions.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "Her longest standing friends have been telling me that when she was 30 she was saying 'I am not going to grow old. I don't like it and I'm not going to do it. It's full of risks'

"She originally said the ideal age was 50, then it was 60, then she said 70 and when she turned 70 five years ago she got a really bad attack of shingles and that badly reduced her quality of life.

"And that accelerated her plans for her termination. For the last three years she's been making her plans, joining groups, gathering information on what options there are, and the process has just developed intensively over the last three years.

"I put a lot of questions to her for her to answer for herself. If you knew Gill there would be no persuading her. She was not a girl to be persuaded."

In May a father with cancer ended his life at the Swiss clinic Dignitas against the wishes of his family, despite admitting “I know I am going too early.”

Jeffrey Spector, who had a tumour on his spine but was not terminally ill, died at the Zurich hospital because he feared he would become paralysed.

In a final interview given hours before he died Mr Spector, 54, admitted: “I am jumping the gun. Do not judge me."

However, Dr Michael Irwin, the co-ordinator of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (Soars), who helped the retired nurse with her plans to go to Switzerland, said: “Some will say that Gill was wrong to avoid the expected decrepitude of ‘old age’ but, having seen much suffering as a palliative care nurse, she took the rational decision that . . . she preferred to have a pre-emptive, doctor-assisted suicide.”

The former nurse had no major health problems, and was on no medication. She said she suffered from intermittent back pain following a bout of shingles, and had tinnitus.

But she said she felt she was going downhill “in an almost imperceptible way” as she grew older.

“I would rather go out when I am not quite at a peak. I have dropped off a bit but I want to be still me, recognisably me and not have people look and think, ‘Oh, are you Gill, were you Gill?” she said. “A lot of people are very good until they are 70 and then they start sloping off a bit.”

She was accompanied to Lifecircle, the assisted-dying clinic in Basel, by John.

On the eve of her death, the couple wandered through the city before enjoying a meal on the banks of the Rhine.

“The whole evening was very tranquil and enjoyable,” said John. “I think it is what we both wanted. Gill had been thinking about it for years and I had no intention of spoiling it by getting emotional and heavy.”

The former nurse said her children and partner had struggled with her decision.

“It is not his [John’s] choice at all and my kids are backing me, although it is not their choice,” she said before the journey to Switzerland. “My daughter is a nurse and she said, ‘Intellectually, I know where you are coming from but emotionally I am finding it really hard,’ and I know she is.”

By Telegraph Reporters

The Telegraph, Tuesday 04 August 2015



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