British Woman’s Challenge to Assisted Suicide Guidelines Starts This Week

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 28, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Woman’s Challenge to Assisted Suicide Guidelines Starts This Week

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 28
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — A British woman’s case begins at the England High Court to force a decision on whether she can force 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.

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.

On Thursday, the High Court will begin a two-day judicial review into Purdy’s case and she says she will take her legal fight to the House of Lords if she fails this week.

“It’s a bit bizarre that, in Britain, suicide isn’t illegal but assisting it is,” Purdy told the Observer newspaper. “I am not asking to be able to carry out an illegal act in this country, just to have clarified what would happen to my husband if he accompanies me to somewhere where it is legal.”

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.

Alison Davis of No Less Human, part of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, has previously 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."

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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