Setback for MS sufferer who wants husband to help her die

'I'm not prepared for my husband to face jail', says woman – but judges refuse to clarify assisted-suicide law

A woman suffering from multiple sclerosis who wants her husband to accompany her to Switzerland so she can die in dignity has vowed to continue her fight to clarify the law after two judges yesterday ruled that prosecutors do not have to publish special guidance on assisted suicide cases.

Debbie Purdy, 45, who uses a wheelchair, travelled from Bradford to London to hear the outcome of her case. She claimed that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had a legal duty to say when he was most likely to prosecute an allegation of assisted suicide.

Ms Purdy said that, without such clarity, her husband, Omar, would be at risk of being imprisoned for up to 14 years if he played any part in her travel arrangements to Dignitas, the Swiss clinic where 100 British citizens have chosen to stay to end their lives.

Her lawyers argued the DPP was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to respect for her private and family life, because of his failure to make the law clear.

But Lord Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Aikens, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that Ms Purdy's human rights had not been infringed and that it was up to Parliament to redraw the limits of the law.

Lord Justice Scott Baker added: "We cannot leave this case without expressing great sympathy for Ms Purdy, her husband and others in a similar position who wish to know in advance whether they will face prosecution for doing what many would regard as something the law should permit, namely to help a loved one go abroad to end their suffering when they are unable to do it on their own."

But he added: "This would involve a change in the law. The offence of assisted suicide is very widely drawn to cover all manner of different circumstances; only Parliament can change it."

After leaving court, Ms Purdy said she was disappointed with the ruling and promised to take her case to the Court of Appeal.

Speaking outside the High Court, she said: "We still don't know how we can make sure that we stay within the law, because I'm certainly not prepared for Omar to break the law – I'm not prepared for him to face jail. How can we make sure that we act within the law if they won't tell us in what circumstances they would prosecute?"

Ms Purdy met her husband in a bar in Singapore in 1995, as she was first experiencing the early symptoms of her condition. Mr Puente, a jazz musician from Cuba, has stood by her since.

She says she is still considering travelling to Switzerland to take a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by doctors at Dignitas. Ms Purdy wants her husband at her side but fears he may be prosecuted in Britain, and says she may therefore have to make the trip earlier than she really wanted.

Earlier this month, a former rugby player travelled to Dignitas to commit suicide. It is understood that the parents of Daniel James, 23, from Worcester, who was paralysed during training, are being investigated by police and a report has been referred to the West Midlands complex casework unit of the Crown Prosecution Service. Nearly 100 people have travelled to Switzerland to take their lives, but no one has been convicted of assisting suicide.

Many supporters of a change in the law believe the Purdy case could have ended up harming the cause of a death in dignity campaign. Michael Irwin, a former GP and former chairman of the campaign group Dignity in Dying, said that the DPP could never have been expected to give such a commitment as that requested by Debbie Purdy for her husband.

Since 2005, Dr Irwin has accompanied three terminally-ill people to Zurich for an assisted suicide.

In a letter to The Independent, he said: "I am 99 per cent certain that Omar Puente will not be prosecuted, and perhaps never even questioned by the police, if he accompanies his wife to Dignitas in Zurich when eventually she becomes 'terminally ill'.

"The police have interviewed me three times about my activities with Dignitas, with reports being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. But nothing further has happened.When it comes to acting on the 1961 Suicide Act (which states that it is a crime to 'aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another'), we like a 'fudge' in this country if the suicide occurs abroad."

A spokesperson for the CPS said after the ruling: "The CPS has great sympathy for the personal circumstances of Mrs Purdy and her family. The judgment has, however, recognised that the Code for Crown Prosecutors, against which all cases are reviewed, is clear and precise, that the law is adequate and there is no need for a specific policy for cases of assisted suicide."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat