Family’s support for Hampstead pensioner who ended life at Swiss Clinic

Elizabeth Coulouris, who died at a suicide clinic in Switzerland

Elizabeth Coulouris, who died at a suicide clinic in Switzerland - Credit: Archant

The family of a former Hampstead teacher who ended her life at a Swiss clinic as she could not cope with the pain of old age have spoken of their support for her decision.

Elizabeth Coulouris as a young woman

Elizabeth Coulouris as a young woman - Credit: Archant

“Live wire” Elizabeth Coulouris 83, who lived in the Vale of Health, was not suffering from a terminal illness, but could no longer bear her arthritis, restless leg syndrome, irregular heartbeat, deterioration in hearing and other symptoms of growing old.

In a poignant last note urging doctors to end her life, she said that her poor hearing made family gatherings a “pointless affair” and her arthritis and irregular heartbeat “make me slow when I used to be quick”.

She wrote: “If all of these ailments were inflicted on me by a human, it would be an offence.”

She urged: “I fear incapacity more than I fear death... There is nothing I want to stay alive for...Please let me go.”

Accompanied by her brother Pat Donaldson, 72, and niece Pam Donaldson, 49, widow Mrs Coulouris travelled to Lifecircle, an assisted-dying clinic in Basel.

Mr Donaldson told how after a “pleasant” day touring the city and dining at nice restaurants, they accompanied his sister, who was “calm and matter of fact”, to the inconspicuous townhouse in a leafy street where she was given a lethal injection.

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Mr Donaldson, who lives in France, described how he held his sister’s hand as she slipped away peacefully. He said: “There was no doubt in her mind. It was what she wanted to do.

“She seemed very calm and happy. We all held her hand and were stroking her hair as she slipped away. Then it hit me.

“It was very very sad, an extremely sad moment, even though we were well prepared and supported her decision.

“She had spent years researching and there was no doubt this is what she wanted to do. There was nothing to alleviate her symptoms. I couldn’t have stopped her even if I wanted to. There was no moment of doubt at all.”

Fighting back tears, niece Pam, of Stoke Newington, said: “It was tough, but quite amazing in some ways. She was in full control and really peaceful. It was an honour to be with her. I did not want her to die, but I respected her decision. She felt that the best of her life had been had. She was fiercely independent and didn’t want to end up in hospital.”

Until the last few years, Mrs Coulouris could be seen riding her bicycle through the streets of Hampstead and strolling across Hampstead Heath.

The talented pianist, with a bright mind, was a regular at the Magdala pub in South End Green where she would discuss current affairs and music with her friends.

Among the topics she loved to debate was the issue of assisted dying.

“She was interested in the subject from an intellectual point of view. She believed the issue needed to be talked about,” said brother Mr Donaldson, 72.

“She attended lectures by doctors and joined groups and believed it should be legalised in this country.”

At this stage he couldn’t have envisaged that within a couple of years, through the symptoms of old age, his sister’s quality of life would deteriorate so much that she would be travelling to Switzerland urging doctors to help her die.

Mr Donaldson said: “Liz was always a real live wire and had a very active social life. She knew all her neighbours and looked after their cats and watered their gardens when they went away. She had a group of friends she would meet at the pub and they discussed music and other things.”

Mrs Coulouris, who grew up in Edinburgh, met her first husband in her late teens but the marriage ended in divorce and she moved to Hampstead in her early 20s, living at first with relatives in Ornan Road, Belsize Park, and later at a cottage in the Vale of Health.

It was here that she met her second husband, Hollywood actor George Coulouris, who had a neighbouring cottage. She was in her 40s and he in his 70s.

She never had children but was an involved stepmother and step-grandmother to George’s children.

Mr Donaldson believes his sister’s experience of nursing George through painful Parkinson Disease, leading to his death in 1989, contributed to her belief in assisted dying.

He said her own decline was gradual: “Old age incapacitated her. It got to the stage where her only pleasure was listening to music.”

He believes his sister’s own final words best sum it up: “Please let me go... I feel no urge to stay alive, simply in order to breath.”