Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diane Purdy loses assisted suicide case in the UK

Debbie Purdy, who lives with MS, asked the court for clarity concerning the law on assisted suicide in the UK.

Purdy, who has stated that she intends to travel to Switzerland to die by assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic, is concerned that her husband, Omar Purnte, may be charged with assisting her suicide by participating in her death in Switzerland.

Purdy was granted a judicial review on the grounds that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had acted illegally by not providing guidance on how decisions on prosecutions are reached.

David Pannick QC - the lawyer for Purdy - said that guidelines already exist for crimes of domestic violence, bad driving and football-related offences.

Pannick argued that Purdy and Puente were entitled to the guidance to enable them to "foresee" if Puente was likely to be prosecuted if he assisted the suicide of his wife.

The two high court justices ruled that the rights of Purdy and her husband have not been infringed and existing guidelines are adequate.

Lord Justice Scott Baker stated:
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 that 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.

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.

The judge also said that their were reasons why the DPP had produced specific guidelines for other types of crime. The Judge stated:
They concerned "a particular prevalent social problem," were "more easily identifiable," and in those cases "it was clearly imperative that the public should understand the specific criteria that the DPP and crown prosecutors would employ in deciding whether to prosecute them."

The Care Not Killing Alliance in the UK, that is led by Dr. Peter Saunders, responded to the Purdy case by stating:
Assisting in another's suicide is a criminal offence which carries a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment. The law is very clear on this matter and should not be changed. Changing it to allow assisted suicide would place vulnerable people – the sick, elderly, depressed and disabled – under pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death. Vulnerable people often feel that they constitute a financial or emotional burden to others and the so-called 'right to die' can so easily become the duty to die. Once a person has been 'helped to die' it is often very difficult to know whether there has been subtle coercion involved from someone who has an interest in a person's death.

Requests like this are thankfully extremely rare and hard cases make bad law. We must not legislate for exceptions and the House of Lords for this reason in 2006 quite rightly rejected Lord Joffe's assisted dying bill. There are over 70,000 people in Britain with multiple sclerosis at present and only a very small number ever request assisted suicide. These requests are virtually never persistent if patients' physical, emotional and spiritual needs are properly addressed. Our key priority must therefore be to make the very best palliative care more widely accessible and to get rid of the postcode lottery of care that currently exists in Britain.

We are concerned about Mrs Purdy's expressed fear of choking to death or experiencing excruciating pain because with good palliative care these fears are quite groundless. The public is being misled over this. There have been great advances in the management of multiple sclerosis which have benefited patients and now mean that many with the disease live an almost normal lifespan. Mrs Purdy has had MS for 13 years already and may have many more years still to live. It is also not at all clear, given the type of illness she has, that she would ever need assistance to end her life, should she be determined to do so. This case has to be seen therefore in the wider context of an ongoing campaign by Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, to change the law.

The key issue here remains whether the law should be changed for the very small number of people who press for assisted suicide. Our view is that in order to protect others from exploitation it should not be.

Link to the response from the Care Not Killing Coalition concerning the Debbie Purdy case:

Link to the Care Not Killing Alliance website:

Purdy has been given permission to appeal the decision. She says she has been left in "a confused mess".

Purdy stated:
I will continue to campaign so that I and others do not have to worry about whether the people we love will face prosecution after we are gone.

The Purdy case is sure to continue.

People with disabilities should be concerned that Purdy may appear to be representing their interests. It is clear that the leadership of the disability rights movement opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide because they are the targeted in society by negative attitudes and social pressures.

People with disabilities really want society to provide them with opportunities to live with dignity. They are not demanding a removal of protections in the law and create an inequality whereby they are subtly and socially pressured to die.


kimba said...

I wonder if her husband could be subtly behind her push to die, as in another case I read about.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Whether her husband is subtly behind her push to die or not, I am sure this would be a very different story if her husband was saying to her.

I love you and I want to care for you.