LONDON, April 7, 2011 ( – The decision of an 84-year-old euthanasia campaigner to take her own life at the infamous suicide “clinic” in Zurich Switzerland, is likely to add fuel to the efforts of assisted suicide campaigners in Britain who want the current law overturned.


Nan Maitland, a retired occupational therapist and founder of the campaign group Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS), was not terminally ill but suffered from arthritis. Most of all, she said, she feared the physical consequences of old age and intractable pain. As a member of the movement to legalize assisted suicide in Britain, Maitland was described by the group Friends at the End (FATE), as “very active.”

FATE admitted that Maitland had actively assisted suicides, saying she had “advised many individuals, in the UK, on how to travel to Switzerland for a physician-assisted suicide (actually, accompanying one person there in 2005).”

In preparation for her suicide in Switzerland, she wrote a letter to assisted suicide supporters: “I have a great feeling of relief that I will have no further need to struggle through each day in dread of what further horrors may lie in wait. For many years, I have feared the long period of decline, sometimes called ‘prolonged dwindling,’ that so many people unfortunately experience before they die.”

Former GP Dr. Michael Irwin, a co-founder of SOARS, admitted to the BBC that he had accompanied Maitland to the Dignitas facility in Zurich, and said that he hoped the police would “get in touch” with him in order to re-open the legal debate. He confirmed that although Maitland was not suffering from any illness other than arthritis, a Swiss doctor had approved her suicide.

Irwin admitted to having “helped” other people commit suicide, saying, “f they have good, sensible reasons and they are mentally competent and at an age where they cannot expect to live many more years, I think it should be their personal individual choice.”

The left flank of the British media has not hesitated to choose a side, with the BBC running the headline, “Campaigner had ‘dignified’ death” and the Guardian following suit with “Living in fear of the ‘prolonged dwindle.’”

In February 2010, UK Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said that although the law makes assisting or counseling suicide a crime, punishable by 14 years in prison, no prosecutions would be pursued if the perpetrators acted out of “compassion.” Among the criteria that would be considered in decisions is whether the victim had reached a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision.

The local police in Irwin’s home county of Surry said “no action” was planned at this stage. A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said, “We have to wait until the police investigation is complete.”

Dr. Peter Saunders, from the Care Not Killing Alliance, warned, “This case, involving an elderly woman with arthritis who was actively assisted by fellow campaigners to kill herself, yet again exposes the real agenda of the pro-euthanasia lobby.”

“The true aim of those campaigning for a change in the law, as we have seen today, is to allow anyone who requests it, regardless of their age or health, to be helped to end their lives.”

Saunders added, “All the evidence shows that 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.”

This was echoed by an anonymous commenter on the case who wrote to the Scottish Herald, saying, “I’m dismayed because I have recently been diagnosed with arthritis and fear the actions of Mrs. Maitland and those at Fate will have a direct impact on me and other arthritis suffers.

“We may have a future where valuable research into our condition and its treatment may now go elsewhere as some may think we have a solution to our suffering.”


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