MS sufferer seeks clarity on assisted suicide law

A multiple sclerosis sufferer yesterday welcomed the London High Court’s decision to allow her to seek clarification of the law on assisted suicide.

Two judges ruled that the “nature and sensitivity” of Debbie Purdy’s human rights case justified letting her seek judicial review.

Ms Purdy, 45, said she was “really pleased” with the decision — adding that a successful legal challenge could help prolong her life. The case will be heard in October.

The 45-year-old is accusing the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales Sir Ken Macdonald, of unlawfully failing to publish details of his policy on whether, and in what circumstances, people might be prosecuted if they help loved ones to die.

Under the Suicide Act 1961, aiding or abetting suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. No one has been prosecuted so far, but Ms Purdy’s lawyers argue the law is in urgent need of clarification. If there is no policy then there should be one, they argue.

Ms Purdy, who lived an adventurous life including trekking through jungles and jumping out of planes before illness set in, says she plans “to live forever”. But if her condition becomes unbearably painful she plans to choose her moment to die and is a member of Dignitas, the Swiss organisation that operates clinics where people can go to end their lives.

She wants to know whether her husband, professional musician Omar Puente, will be prosecuted if he helps her travel to a clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, to commit suicide.

Ms Purdy, who lives in her specially adapted home in Bradford, West Yorkshire, met her Cuban husband while travelling around the world.

Jeremy Johnson, appearing for the DPP, submitted that her case was unarguable because there was no specific policy on assisted suicide, andno legal obligation on the DPP to publish one.

He also argued her bid to have the law clarified under Article 8 (right to respect for personal and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights was blocked by legal precedent.

However Lord Justice Latham, sitting with Mr Justice Nelson at London’s High Court, ruled that “without wishing to give Ms Purdy any optimism, that her arguments will ultimately succeed”, she did have an arguable case which should go to a full hearing.

She said after yesterday’s hearing: “If the DPP does clarify that my husband will not be prosecuted for accompanying me to Dignitas, I will be able to wait until I’m ready to go.

“I want to wait until the last possible moment — if I can no longer bear being alive. I can’t do that while there’s a chance my husband will be prosecuted.”


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