British Woman Debbie Purdy Takes Assisted Suicide Case to House of Lords

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

British Woman Debbie Purdy Takes Assisted Suicide Case to House of Lords

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 3
, 2009

London, England ( — Debbie Purdy, a Briton who wants her husband not to go to prison for taking her to a Swiss euthanasia center, is taking her case to the House of Lords. The body will consider whether to overturn the ruling of the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

They had previously ruled that the Director of Public Prosecutions is not required to issue a public prosecuting policy on suicide tourism and whether people like Purdy’s husband will be prosecuted.

Under current English law, which has rarely been enforced, anyone assisting in a suicide could receive as much as 14 years in prison for doing so.

Purdy, who is 46 and has multiple sclerosis, claims that the law against assisted suicide infringes on her Article 8 right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to a Sky News report, her attorney, Lord Pannick, told a panel of five House Lords, "She accepts there will come a time when her continuing existence will become unbearable for her, at which point she will wish to end her own life."

However, "She will not be able to make the arrangements without the assistance of her husband who will consequently be at risk of prosecution," he added.

But Lord Pannick noted the risk of her husband facing prosecution was relatively low and said "she can wait until the very last minute before traveling with her husband’s assistance."

Purdy’s legal action is supported by the pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying and she is a member of Dignitas, the Swiss organization that runs the controversial death clinics that help kill people.

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

"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," Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, 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 worthy."

In his February ruling, 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.

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.

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.

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

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