Gill Pharoah was a retired palliative care nurse who took her own life on July 21st. Pharoah was 75 and in perfect health, but chose to end her life before suffering any serious medical problems. Pharoah's longtime partner accompanied her to a facility in Switzerland where she was given a life-ending injection.

Gill Pharoah had no degenerative disease or incurable illness, but she cited her work in palliative care as one of the reasons for wanting to die when she did:

“I have looked after people who are old, on and off, all my life. I have always said, ‘I am not getting old. I do not think old age is fun.’ I know that I have gone just over the hill now. It is not going to start getting better. I do not want people to remember me as a sort of old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley," Pharoah told the Sunday Times.

Medical ethicist Art Caplan said Wednesday on Boston Public Radio that "mental distress" was enough reason for an assisted suicide in Switzerland. It was a rationale he wasn't comfortable with.

"Our trigger in the US is [...] terminal illness," but the trigger in Switzerland and other European countries is "suffering." "That's — to me — just too broad a runway to take euthanasia down. I think you've got a slippery slope," Caplan said. He said it was unethical in his mind for a physician to help Pharoah die.

Discussion of assisted suicide in the US has been contentious for decades. Dr. Jack Kevorkian earned the nickname "Dr. Death" — and served eight years of hard time — for facilitating patient deaths. Last year, Brittany Maynard ended her own life before she could succumb to a terminal illness. Currently three states allow physician-assisted suicide. The criteria for its use are fairly rigid, and as a result it's used infrequently.

"I won't say assisted suicides are common," Caplan said, "but they're out there."

Caplan advised developing a living will as quickly as possible to handle end-of-life decisions. Additionally, he recommended having the hard conversation with the people attending your family's holiday gatherings.

"Everybody will be there. You can look around the table, and that's the selection of people that are likely to be there if you get very sick."

>>>Art Caplan is head of the division of medical ethics at NYU's Langone Medical Center. He's also cohost of the Everyday Ethics podcast. He joins BPR every Wednesday for "Ask the Ethicist."