Britain Denies Debbie Purdy’s Case to Learn of Likely Assisted Suicide Charges

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 29, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Britain Denies Debbie Purdy’s Case to Learn of Likely Assisted Suicide Charges

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 29
, 2008

London, England ( — The British High Court has ruled against Debbie Purdy, a woman who wants to travel to Switzerland to kill herself at a euthanasia center and doesn’t want her family charged when they return. Purdy filed a lawsuit against officials in England to make them reveal when they will charge someone.

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

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

After hearing the verdict, Purdy told reporters she was "disappointed and surprised" that they refused to make prosecutors reveal when they will bring charges in a potential case.

"I’m not prepared for Omar to break the law," she said of her husband, according to a CNN report. "How can we make sure that we act within the law without potential prison sentences if they won’t tell us under what circumstances they would prosecute?"

Purdy said she would appeal the decision and added she would go to Switzerland alone if she can’t guarantee her husband wouldn’t be charged.

Bioethics expert Wesley J. Smith, an American attorney and author, responded to the news and said he’s upset that the media focus is on the right to suicide and not efforts to provide medical care and support to patients.

"These cases tug at our hearts, but not in the right way. By applauding her right to ‘choice’ we abandon her to the worst fears she may have about her future, and indeed, agree that her life will not be worth living, that she will be a burden, etc," he says.

"Our effort toward Purdy should be just the opposite, to support her in living, to continually reaffirm her value, in suicide prevention so that she hopefully loses the desire to kill herself," he adds.

"Indeed, I find it interesting that these stories never say what, if any, such help she is receiving, or indeed, whether she has refused such assistance. Why the lack of curiosity by journalists?" Smith asks.

Ultimately, Smith worries stories like the one of Purdy simply advocate euthanasia rather than provide moral support for elderly or terminally ill patients.

"Purdy’s activism–and the public support she receives–sends an insidious message to other people struggling with difficult diseases and conditions, that their lives are not worth living and not worth protecting," he explains.
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.

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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