Gill Pharaoh

It’s rare for me to write a blog on the subject of someone else’s blog, but I was recently sent a link to this brave lady’s website:

Essentially Gill Pharaoh, a 75-year-old retired nurse who had worked for many years with elderly people and witnessed first hand their end-of-life suffering and pain, took the decision to end her own life in a Swiss clinic. She was not terminally ill – though her health had naturally declined of late – but she took the assisted suicide route to avoid being a future burden to her family or our beleaguered NHS.

I didn’t know Gill – there is a semi-connection there, in that her widower is a friend of a friend – but her story really struck a chord with me. I recently started a new job within the health service, providing services to patients, mainly elderly, in care homes.

Gill’s story has been reported extensively in the press over the last few days, and attracted some nasty comments.

Would it have been, say, less “selfish” of Gill (to use an accusation levelled at her), if she’d allowed her family to watch her wither away from cancer, for example? Having lost a parent to a particularly cruel strain of cancer myself, I think not.

Euthanasia will forever be an immensely controversial subject. Of course a system such as there is in Switzerland and a handful of other countries lays itself open to accusations of doctors “playing God” (though as a staunch atheist that argument does not sit particularly well with me), or the possibility of Harold Shipmans murdering vulnerable patients while using the “euthanasia” defence.

I am personally 100% in favour of patients of sound mind who can prove they were not unduly influenced (by aforementioned evil doctors, say, or even grasping relatives eager for early inheritances) exercising the right to die.

I only hope euthanasia is legal in the UK by the time I reach a stage in my life where I am in too much pain to live. I do not wish to be kept artificially alive just to be propped upright for a jolly photo in the Evening Mail of me vacantly clutching a telegram from the Queen.

We speak of putting animals “out of their misery” if they are incurably ill or wounded, so why not human beings? Why, as a nation, are we often kinder to animals than to humans?

Though I am never realistically going to emigrate, it struck me, while on a winter mini break to Montreux last year, what a pleasant country Switzerland would be to live in. Its clean, fresh air, attractive Victorian architecture and arty atmosphere appealed to me. I’m certain it would be a pleasant place to die in as well.

The blog to which I have linked above, entitled My Last Word, is incredibly moving and written with such dignity. Not a comfortable read, but a worthwhile one.

RIP Gill Pharaoh.