Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Woman loses assisted suicide case

Debbie Purdy on the court ruling

A woman with multiple sclerosis has lost her Appeal Court case to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Debbie Purdy, 45, from Bradford, is considering going to a Swiss clinic to end her life, but fears her husband may be charged on his return to the UK.

She wanted clarification of where her husband, Omar Puente would stand legally if he helped her in any way.

But Ms Purdy said after the ruling: "I feel that I have won my argument, despite having lost the appeal."

I'm not prepared for him to face the British justice system without me
Debbie Purdy

She was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 1995 and is now losing strength in her upper body. She has been in a wheelchair since 2001.

Ms Purdy has said she will take legal advice on what to do next, but said it was likely she would take her case to the House of Lords.

High Court judges ruled in October that official guidance did not need to change.

'Parliament's decision'

The Appeal Court judges had been asked to reconsider that judgement.

But they said: "Notwithstanding our sympathy for the dreadful predicament in which Mrs Purdy and Mr Puente find themselves, this appeal must be dismissed."

They said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) could not adopt a "case-specific policy in the kind of certain terms sought by Ms Purdy".

Their ruling said it had to be parliament which decided if the law should change.

It is time for parliament to remove the doubt which makes an upsetting situation even more traumatic
Evan Harris MP

And they added that, even if a defendant in an assisted suicide case were to be convicted, a court could decide that no sanction was appropriate.

Ms Purdy told the BBC: "The court has made it clear that they don't believe they are able to give me the clarity that I feel I need."

She added that if she could not be "100% certain" that her husband would not be prosecuted, she would go to Switzerland "earlier than I would otherwise want to".

"I'm not prepared for him to face the British justice system without me.

"That would be a nightmare, and far more painful than facing dying early."

Travel aid

Ms Purdy has always said she would still consider travelling to Switzerland to take a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by Dignitas doctors.

She wants her husband at her side, but has wanted to know if he could face prosecution on his return to Britain for helping her by buying train tickets, or by accompanying her abroad.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris backed Ms Purdy's call for parliament to consider the issue.

""The DPP has never found a basis for prosecution in over hundred cases of assisted dying - including one where the patient was not even terminally ill - so it is time for parliament to remove the doubt which makes an upsetting situation even more traumatic

No prosecutions

It is not the first time the issue has been raised in the courts.

In 2001 Diane Pretty, who had motor neurone disease, failed to get immunity from prosecution for her husband if he helped her to die in the UK.

Several attempts to legalise suicide in Britain have also been rejected.

In England and Wales, aiding or abetting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

There have so far been no prosecutions of relatives of 101 UK citizens who have gone to the Dignitas clinic.

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