Purdy wins Lords assisted suicide appeal


A disabled woman has succeeded in her legal fight to force the government to clarify the law on assisted suicide.
But anti-euthanasia campaigners have warned that the ruling could add to the fear many disabled people feel over attempts to weaken the law.
Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, wanted the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to describe the circumstances in which her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her end her life abroad.
She aims to end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide centre in Switzerland, but wants her husband to accompany her.
The five Law Lords unanimously backed Purdy’s demand for a policy statement from the DPP that sets out, as Lord Neuberger said, the “aggravating factors and mitigating factors” when deciding whether to prosecute in such cases.
But they stressed that they were not making a new law on assisted suicide, but merely seeking to clarify existing legislation.
Purdy, from Bradford, west Yorkshire, who said she was “ecstatic” at the ruling, had previously lost cases in the high court and court of appeal.
Keir Starmer QC, the DPP and head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said after the ruling: “We will endeavour to produce an interim policy as quickly as possible which outlines the principal factors for and against prosecution.”
He said he hoped to produce an interim policy by the end of September, followed by a public consultation, and a final policy next spring.
But Haqeeq Bostan, a spokesman for Not Dead Yet UK, an organisation of disabled people campaigning against legalising assisted suicide, said the ruling could pressure the government to change the law without a “critical examination of all the issues”, and would make disabled people “start to feel uncomfortable and fearsome about what is in store for them”.
He said it was more important to examine discrimination, and how disabled people can live with dignity and secure the palliative care they need.
The Care Not Killing alliance – whose members include the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council and RADAR – welcomed the greater legal clarity the ruling could bring.
But it added: “Parliament has recognised only three weeks ago, in its substantial rejection of Lord Falconer’s amendment to the coroners and justice bill, that there are serious public safety implications involved in creating loopholes in the law to meet the wishes of a determined and strong-minded minority.”
Lord Falconer’s amendment would have legalised helping a terminally-ill person to travel to another country where assisted suicide is legal, such as Switzerland.
Pam Macfarlane, chief executive of the MS Trust, said: “MS is not a terminal condition and we actively campaign for more specialists to deliver the care that is needed for a condition as variable as MS.
“There is no question that more investment is needed in specialist palliative care and that support for the person with MS and those close to them must be a priority. However, people will decide for themselves.”
30 July 2009