Purdy court ruling 'could make assisted suicide more difficult'

GP who has helped patients die abroad fears legal move may leave relatives even more open to charges

A GP arrested last week for helping patients travel to Switzerland to die said yesterday that a landmark ruling on assisted suicide may make the situation more difficult for the terminally ill.

In the ruling, Debbie Purdy, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis, last week won the right to have the law on assisted suicide clarified by the law lords. As a result, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must state when prosecutions would be launched against those who accompany people abroad to take their own lives.

Ms Purdy wants her husband, Omar Puente, to be able to accompany her to a clinic in Switzerland without fear of arrest, when she chooses to die.

But Dr Michael Irwin, who has accompanied several terminally ill people to die at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, said last night that he fears her case will in fact make it more difficult for relatives to travel with patients. Dr Irwin, who is on police bail for helping to fund a patient's death at Dignitas, said that a formal explanation of the law "could open a can of worms".

At least 115 Britons have killed themselves at Dignitas, often accompanied by relatives who risk up to 14 years in prison by travelling with them. Last week the law lords told the DPP, Keir Starmer, to clarify how his department decides whether or not to prosecute in assisted suicide cases. Dr Irwin fears that this clarification – which will appear as guidelines in September, before a consultation – will actually make relatives more vulnerable to prosecution.

"I've been concerned about the Debbie Purdy case from the start", he said. "It may make it more difficult for people because she's asking to have the [DPP] to come out publicly and say what friends and family might face.

"It all depends on the guidelines the DPP sets out in September, but he's boxed into a corner by the law lords now. Starmer himself mentioned financial gain as a consideration for guidelines and that could apply to a spouse or even grown-up children. You may have a situation where people have to rewrite a will to leave out a spouse so that they can't be prosecuted. It might have been a mistake to promote the Debbie Purdy case: it has drawn people's attention to the issue, which is good, but it could open a can of worms."

James Harris at Dignity in Dying, which has been promoting Mrs Purdy's case, said: "I don't share the concern. There may be aspects of the DPP's ruling that people want to question, but we'll have to wait until September. We think clarification is better than the current muddle where you have a blanket law which covers all assistance to suicide and isn't enforced."

Dr Irwin was arrested on Friday for giving 58-year-old terminal cancer patient Raymond Cutkelvin £1,500 towards the cost of his assisted suicide in 2007. The doctor had called on the police to arrest him a week after they arrested Mr Cutkelvin's partner of 28 years, Alan Cutkelvin Rees, 57, who also accompanied Mr Cutkelvin to the Dignitas clinic. Both men are on police bail until 23 September, but Dr Irwin says he intends to accompany another patient to the clinic in that time.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk