British Woman’s Challenge to Assisted Suicide Prosecutions Heads to Court

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 9, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Woman’s Challenge to Assisted Suicide Prosecutions Heads to Court

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 9
, 2008

London, England ( — A British woman is heading to court this week with her bid to force England’s prosecutors to reveal when they will charge someone with participating in an assisted suicide. The case comes from a woman who plans to head to Switzerland soon to kill herself at a euthanasia center.

Debbie Purdy lived a jet-set life until a multiple sclerosis diagnosis took the wind out of her sails.

With the debilitating disease progressing and now confined to a wheelchair, Purdy plans to go to a Dignitas euthanasia facility in Switzerland.

However, she doesn’t want her husband charged with committing an assisted suicide when he returns home to the UK after the trip.

British law calls for 14 years in prison for assisting a suicide, although none of the relatives or friends of the people who had killed themselves in western Europe have been brought to trial for violating the law by taking their loved ones to the centers.

Still, some relatives have been detained by police in cases surrounding the deaths and many have waited months to hear the charges were eventually dropped.

Purdy didn’t want to take any chances and asked Sir Ken Macdonald, director of public prosecutions, to disclose when he would charge someone with violating the law.

Macdonald refused to disclose his practices and Purdy filed a lawsuit that will receive a hearing Wednesday at the high court in London.

"If there is any uncertainty around this I would be forced to go by myself, while I can still travel alone and make all the arrangements," she told the London Guardian newspaper.

"This could be years before I’m actually ready to die. If I know my husband won’t be prosecuted for coming with me I will be able to go when I’m ready, with my husband by my side."

Pro-life advocates say patients should be provided with better pain relief, palliative care and psychological referrals instead of promoting their death via assisted suicide or euthanasia.