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News – New suicide challenge

November 2008

New suicide challenge

 

A 45-year-old Bradford woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis is challenging the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to state when and in what circumstances he will prosecute people who help others to die.

     Debbie Purdy wants to have the choice of ending her life if her illness becomes unbearable. She plans to travel to Switzerland to do so, assisted by Dignitas, the pro-euthanasia group, and her husband. However, under present law her husband, the jazz violinist Omar Puente, could face up to 14 years in prison for assisting a suicide.

     Mrs Purdy is asking the High Court in what circumstances they would prosecute. She told The Times newspaper, ‘If they say that my husband can collate the information, push me on to the train but not buy the ticket, then at least I know where I am … If I know I cannot be helped at all, then I might have to consider going [to Switzerland] earlier than I would otherwise do, when I am more able’. Mrs Purdy’s lawyers are arguing that the right to life should include decisions about death if the quality of life is no longer good enough.

     However, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has been given permission to intervene in the High Court challenge. SPUC will submit to the court that Mrs Purdy’s underlying agenda is to undermine British law against assisted suicide. SPUC will also submit that Mrs Purdy’s campaign will serve to undermine vulnerable people.

     Fellow MS sufferer, SPUC member Mary Corrigan said, ‘MS is a terrible disease, and major depression and suicide are more common among MS people than most other groups. It is important that the court gets the full picture of what this case could lead to, and that is why SPUC is seeking to intervene’.

     The case is the first big challenge to the law on assisted suicide since that brought by Dianne Pretty, who died aged 43 in May 2002 from motor neuron disease. Her effort to change the law so that her husband could help end her life was rejected by the House of Lords in November 2001.

     Dignitas can, under Swiss law, assist people to commit suicide. The organisation claims the number of Britons among its assisted suicides reached 100 last month.

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