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Assisted suicide Swiss defend death of ‘healthy’ British nurse

Long term illnesses are sometimes behind why people seek assisted suicide

(Keystone/Gaetan Bally)

The foundation that helped the retired British nurse Gill Pharaoh commit suicide did not do anything wrong, according to Swiss law. Basel-based lifecircle said her health problems were permanent and debilitating.

Although not terminally ill, Pharaoh, 75, had been thinking about assisted suicide for the past five years.

“Helping someone commit suicide for selfless reasons is not punishable by law in Switzerland,” Peter Gill of Basel’s public prosecutor’s office told the Basler Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday.

“She was only living for her partner and children,” lifecircle president Erika Preisig told Swiss public television, RTS, on Wednesday. Pharaoh, who suffered a bad case of shingles some years ago, was also struggling with fatigue plus mobility and hearing problems.

“She lived and struggled much longer than she wanted to,” Preisig said, citing Pharaoh’s final blog postexternal link, in which the retired nurse wrote, “Until I was 70 I was very fit and able to fully participate in any activity I wanted to do. I felt I could still be busy and useful and fairly productive. Then I had a severe attack of shingles and it all changed”.

A similar Swiss foundation, Exit Geneva, has expressed its support for Pharaoh’s decision and lifecircle’s willingness to help. In an interview with RTS, Jérôme Sobel, president of Exit’s Geneva branch, agreed that Pharaoh’s reasons for wanting to die were valid.

In Switzerland, assisted suicide is legal if the person understands what he’s doing, isn’t being pressured by a third party, and has wanted to die for a long time, according to Exitexternal link.

Sobel noted that it was not ideal that people – British nationals, for example – had to leave their home countries to die, saying that such countries were “far from the thinking and practice we have in Switzerland”.

Each year, there are about 1,400 cases of assisted suicide in Switzerland.

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