British Woman Wins High Court Right to Challenge Assisted Suicide Guidelines

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 11, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Woman Wins High Court Right to Challenge Assisted Suicide Guidelines

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 11
, 2008

London, England ( — A British woman has won the right to force England’s prosecutors to reveal when they will charge someone with participating in an assisted suicide. The case involves a woman who wants to head to Switzerland soon to kill herself at a euthanasia center and she doesn’t want her family charged when they return.

Debbie Purdy has multiple sclerosis and she plans to go to a Dignitas euthanasia facility in Switzerland to kill herself as the condition worsens.

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

Two judges ruled today that Purdy has permission to ask Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald when he plans to charge someone with aiding an assisted suicide.

Lord Justice Latham and 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 had a case that could go to a hearing.

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.

A hearing in Purdy’s case is expected to take place in October.

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.

"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."

Alison Davis of No Less Human, part of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said assisted suicide and euthanasia are not positive solutions for the disabled.

"I understand completely the despair and blackness which causes some disabled and ill people to feel suicidal, because I once felt the same," she said.

However, she also said: "Allowing assisted suicide or weakening the law against it would compromise the protection from harm every vulnerable person deserves. The assumption that dying and incurably disabled people are, in effect, right to want to die and better off dead would be confirmed."

SPUC will be intervening in the case, as it did in the somewhat similar 2002 matter of Dianne Pretty.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Eckstein, the founder and president of the Canada-based Compassionate Healthcare Network, told she thinks euthanasia advocates put Purdy up to the legal challenge.

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.

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