British Appeals Court Hears Debbie Purdy’s Assisted Suicide Prosecution Case

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 3, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Appeals Court Hears Debbie Purdy’s Assisted Suicide Prosecution Case

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 3
, 2009

London, England ( — The British Court of Appeal is holding a hearing today on the case of 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.

In October, the British High Court ruled against Purdy and her attorneys appealed the decision.

During the hearing, Lord Pannick QC, appearing for Purdy, argued the High Court judges erred. He said the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, should be required to issue specific policy guidelines.

The appeals court has also heard from a leading pro-life group that has been allowed to get involved.

SPUC, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, has been granted status as an intervenor in the case. Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, talked about the latest news in the legal battle.

"We have great sympathy for Mrs Purdy because of her medical condition, but her legal case is misguided and dangerous," he said.

"Suicide is a course of action which everyone in society, from individuals to parliament naturally discourages. If we favor suicide for individuals who are suffering, we send a message to all those who are sick or disabled that their lives are not worthwhile," he said.

"We welcome the involvement of the DPP in this case and we commend his legal arguments. His firm resistance to this attack on the law is vital to upholding fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone," Tully added.

Tully say the case is another attack on the rights of the vulnerable.

"We are appalled by the continuing attacks on the right to life of those who are elderly or disabled or suffering from progressive degenerative disease," he said.

After the previous high court decision, Purdy said she would go to Switzerland alone if she can’t guarantee her husband wouldn’t be charged.

Meanwhile, Starmer indicated last month that he probably won’t prosecute any cases.

Starmer spoke in light of his decision at the end of last year not to prosecute the family of 23-year-old rugby player Daniel James, whose family took him to a Dignitas center in Switzerland to die. He admitted there was “sufficient evidence” to prosecute but claimed it would not be in the public interest to do so.

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