British High Court Hears Debbie Purdy’s Assisted Suicide Case, No Ruling Yet

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 3, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British High Court Hears Debbie Purdy’s Assisted Suicide Case, No Ruling Yet

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 3
, 2008

London, England ( — The British High Court this week heard the case of a woman who wants prosecutors to reveal when they will charge someone with participating in an assisted suicide. Debbie Purdy wants to travel to Switzerland to kill herself at a euthanasia center and doesn’t want her family charged when they return.

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

Her lawyers told the high court in London that her right to respect for her personal and family life, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, was not being honored by the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

Purdy’s attorneys want the director, Sir Ken Macdonald, to spell out what would happen in her case. Macdonald refused to disclose his practices and Purdy filed a lawsuit.

The DPP says the law which punishes those who assist suicide is clear enough.

During the hearing, Lord Justice Scott Baker said: "It seems to me that it is something of a gray area between whether it is Parliament’s province, if it is minded to do so, to narrow the offence – and the DPP doing it by the back door."

The British pro-life group SPUC has intervened in the case, saying that the challenge threatens vulnerable people by exploiting the disabled and undermines the law. The judges put a written statement of its views before the court.

The hearing concluded today but the judges have not issued a ruling in the case.
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.

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 also intervened in the somewhat similar 2002 matter of Dianne Pretty.

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