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MS woman wins assisted suicide case

Friday, July 31, 2009

A multiple sclerosis sufferer, who feared her husband would be prosecuted if she went abroad to end her life, won a legal bid to force the British government to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

British law says helping someone to commit suicide is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. However, since 1992, about 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, without their relatives being prosecuted.

Debbie Purdy, 46, from Bradford, northern England, wanted to force the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to give assurances her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped her go to a euthanasia facility overseas.

Wheelchair-bound Purdy had been worried that her professional musician husband Omar Puente would be treated harshly by the authorities. On Thursday, Britain's House of Lords, the highest court in the country, unanimously ruled that the failure to clarify the law infringed her human rights.

"I'm ecstatic. It's like having a life back," Purdy told reporters after the verdict. "All five Lords allowed the appeal and that just seems incredible. This decision means that I can make an informed choice, with Omar, about whether he travels abroad with me to end my life because we will know exactly where we stand."

Ruling doesn’t change law
London's High Court and the Appeal Court had previously rejected her case but she was allowed to challenge their verdicts in the Lords.

The ruling does not change the law itself but DPP Keir Starmer said he would try to produce an interim policy providing clarification by the end of September.

"Once our interim policy is published, we will undertake a public consultation exercise in order to take account of the full range of views on this subject," he said, adding he hoped a final framework would devised by early next year.

"I would like them to decide between what is acceptable and what isn't. To see why he will prosecute, that makes it clear for people," Purdy said.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying said about 30 Britons were currently preparing to travel abroad to die and 117 had gone to a foreign country for assisted suicide since 2002. – (Reuters Health, July 2009)