British Judge Backs Debbie Purdy: Won’t Prosecute Families for Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 19, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Judge Backs Debbie Purdy: Won’t Prosecute Families for Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 19
, 2009

London, England ( — Britain’s top judge has issued a ruling saying courts will not uphold prosecution charges against families who take their loved ones to other countries to die by assisted suicide. The case involves Debbie Purdy, who wants her husband not to go to prison for taking her to a Swiss euthanasia center.

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, indicated courts would throw out any such charges against family members.

He said there were “broad circumstances” under which courts would not uphold the nation’s law against assisted suicide.

Combined with the recent statements from the Director of Public Prosecutions, it appears Britons have free reign to take their loved ones to Switzerland to kill themselves without facing any prosecution.

Pro-life advocates worry the ruling open the door for some to prey on the disabled, elderly or terminally ill by encouraging them to end their lives in the terrible conditions at the Dignitas euthanasia center in Zurich.
Purdy told the London Times she was pleased by the comments from the high court, even though it declined to rule in her favor and merely issued a commentary in response to her case to ask the DPP to issue clarification.

Purdy filed a lawsuit against officials in England to make them reveal when they will charge someone.

“I feel that I have won my argument, despite having lost the appeal," she said. They [the judges] have done everything they can do to clarify that …Omar would be unlikely to be prosecuted … we are therefore one step closer to the clarification I need."

Purdy has multiple sclerosis and she plans to go to the Dignitas clinic to kill herself.

At the same time, the Chief Justice indicated that the courts will not decide whether the assisted suicide ban should be thrown out, saying that is a legislative matter best left to Parliament.

“It is no part of the court’s function to enter into that debate. The proper forum for that discussion is Parliament," he said.

SPUC, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, was granted status as an intervenor in the case.

Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, said, "While the dismissal of the appeal is to be welcomed, we are disturbed about the court’s approach to disabled people."

"Today’s judgment, however, is disturbing in that the judges seem to have shown support for the idea that some (disabled) people are right to want to die," he added. "The judgment acknowledges the wrongfulness of giving practical assistance to people who want to die but asserts that it may be ‘inexpedient to take action against relatives for assisting a disabled person’s suicide.’"

"The presumption underlying this thinking is that the lives of people who are enduring long-term disabilities are of low value, and should not be protected in the same way as other people," he said.

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

"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.

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

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.

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