Ann McPherson: I should have been able to choose to die

Ann McPhersonThe well known general practitioner and outstanding communicator Ann McPherson died on 28 May 2011 from pancreatic cancer. She is celebrated for her books for patients, including The Diary of a Teenage Health Freak (BMJ 2009;339:b3355); the DIPEx (Database of Individual Patient Experiences) charity and its websites ( and; and Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, the campaigning group that she established and chaired ( This May, Ann received the BMJ Group’s communicator of the year award (BMJ 2011;342:d1824). Here she gives her final message.

“I’m feeling pretty bloody awful. The nurse and doctor came today to incise the abscess around my chest drain and made the unhelpful suggestion that I might need some antibiotics even though antibiotics make me sick. The GP certainly understands where I am coming from, but when I said that I can’t understand why I have to carry on living like this and why I can’t just die, the nurse said, ‘Well you might change your mind.’

“I think it very unlikely I will change my mind, and even if I did I don’t care. It is nice to see people but if I had the choice there is no question that I would prefer to be dead than to see people. Because I feel so ill. I know everyone is different. It’s nothing specific: I just feel ill, and there seems to be nothing that can make that better. I am already on large doses of morphine and midazolam and haloperidol so that I mostly don’t have pain or sickness—but I still feel ill.

“I feel really furious at this. I think it is cruel. In my practice I saw people who felt like this, and I felt I had let them down. I think my GP thinks that, but all she can do is say is sorry and squeeze my hand.”