A file photo shows the building of the assisted suicide clinic, Dignitas in Pfaeffikon near Zurich.

The assisted suicide of a woman who wanted to escape old age has reignited the debate about euthanasia.

Nan Maitland, 84, a right-to-die campaigner, was not terminally ill but suffered from arthritis and said her life consisted of “more pain than pleasure”.

She was helped to commit suicide in Switzerland by Michael Irwin, a former GP and euthanasia campaigner who has assisted in the deaths of at least eight others.

Mrs Maitland’s death will present a fresh challenge to Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who has so far declined to prosecute anyone for assisting in suicides at Swiss clinics such as Dignitas.

Dr Irwin, who was struck off the medical register six years ago for attempting to help someone kill himself, has previously made his involvement in deaths known to the Crown Prosecution Service.

There are two organisations offering death to foreigners in Switzerland: Dignitas, near Zurich, and Ex International, a smaller clinic in Bern. Mrs Maitland, a former occupational therapist and founding member of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, chose not to name the organisation which assisted in her death to avoid publicising it.

The mother-of-three left a note which said: “By the time you read this, with the help of the good Swiss, I will have gone to sleep.

“For some time, my life has consisted of more pain than pleasure and over the next months and years the pain will be more and the pleasure less.

“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.”

Mrs Maitland, who was separated from her husband, continued: “Please be happy for me that I have been able to escape from this, for me, unbearable future.” She is said to have had a three-hour meal with friends at a five-star hotel in Switzerland before going to the clinic in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

Among those with her was Dr Irwin, 79, a fellow leader of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide.

Dr Irwin, who is nicknamed Dr Death, told the Sunday Times: “Besides those who are terminally ill, there are many elderly individuals who, experiencing increasing physical and psychological suffering, get to the last years of their natural lives and have to seriously consider whether departing this existence will be much more attractive than struggling on.”

But anti-euthanasia campaigner Dr Peter Saunders, of Care Not Killing, said: “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.

“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.”

Assisted suicide is a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail for anyone who “aids and abets” someone in killing themselves.

Most of those who travel to Switzerland to die need help from others, which ranges from buying air tickets to helping with the physical demands of travel.

Last year Mr Starmer published policy guidelines on assisted suicide, which say broadly that there are unlikely to be prosecutions of those who help loved ones to die out of compassion.

Mrs Maitland’s death will, routinely, be investigated by police, who will then forward their report to the CPS. In cases of suspected assisted suicide, decisions on whether to press charges are taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. No DPP has ever brought assisted suicide charges in any of the 160 cases of British deaths at Dignitas since 2002.

A spokesman for the CPS said: “We have to wait until the police investigation is complete.” - Daily Mail