Woman kills herself to avoid old age

A BRITISH woman aged 84 has triggered new controversy over assisted suicide after taking her life at a Swiss clinic because she did not want to die of old age.

Nan Maitland, who suffered from arthritis but was active and not terminally ill, left a note saying she wished to escape the “long period of decline, sometimes called ‘prolonged dwindling’, that so many people unfortunately experience before they die”.

Ms Maitland, who was separated with three children, was a founder of an organisation that campaigns to allow elderly people who are not terminally ill to commit suicide with medical aid.

As recently as last October, Ms Maitland was able to travel to Melbourne to address an international right-to-die conference.

Her case has led to accusations that relaxation in the law on assisted suicide will lead to people dying who could have continued to lead meaningful lives.

Dr Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing, a group of organisations campaigning against the practice, said: “Any change in the law would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones, carers or the state.”

Ms Maitland’s message said: “I have had a wonderful life and the good fortune to die at a time of my choosing.”

She was so composed as she prepared for her death that 15 minutes before she swallowed a lethal solution, she asked to have her nails filed because of a rough edge.

The night before the suicide she enjoyed a three-hour meal with friends at a five-star Swiss hotel, and on her last morning she travelled to her medical examination in a chauffeur-driven limousine. When she said goodbye to loved ones in London, her final farewells were calm and unemotional.

In recent years Swiss suicide clinics have been criticised for offering doctor-assisted deaths to patients who are not terminally ill.

In 2009 Sir Edward Downes, a distinguised orchestral conductor, underwent assisted suicide with his wife, Joan, 74, at the Dignitas clinic.

Lady Downes had terminal cancer of the liver and pancreas, but her husband was not terminally ill. He was, however, nearly blind and increasingly deaf.

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