Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:49 UK

MS woman wins right-to-die review


Debbie Purdy says she is "ecstatic" about the judicial review

A woman with multiple sclerosis has won permission to bring a High Court challenge to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Debbie Purdy, 45, from Bradford, is considering travelling to a country where assisted suicide is legal.

But she is worried her husband, Omar Puente, could be arrested on his return from Belgium or Zurich, Switzerland.

Her lawyers argued the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) acted illegally by not providing guidance.

I want to wait until the last possible moment - if I can no longer bear being alive - but I cannot do that while there is a chance my husband will be prosecuted
Debbie Purdy

The DPP resisted the application.

Sir Ken Macdonald, the director, has stated that there is no policy on assisted suicide, and it would be beyond his powers to grant immunity from prosecution.

But Lord Justice Latham, sitting with Mr Justice Nelson at London's High Court, ruled that "without wishing to give Ms Purdy any optimism that her arguments will ultimately succeed", she did have an arguable case which should go to a full hearing.

'Pain is unbearable'

Ms Purdy was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in March 1995. She can no longer walk and is gradually losing strength in her upper body.

At some point she suggested that she may travel abroad and take a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by doctors at Dignitas - a Swiss organisation which runs clinics.

Clarification of the law is long overdue

Ms Purdy wants her husband to be at her side when she dies - but fears he may be prosecuted on his return to Britain.

Aiding or abetting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Mrs Purdy said: "I am delighted that the courts have decided to officially review the law surrounding my case.

"If the DPP does clarify that my husband will not be prosecuted for accompanying me to Dignitas, I will be able to wait until Iżm ready to go.

"I want to wait until the last possible moment - if I can no longer bear being alive - but I cannot do that while there is a chance my husband will be prosecuted.

"If the DPP does not give this assurance, then I would need to go to Dignitas a long time before I want to die, but at least I would know where I stand."

'Important step'

Mrs Purdy's case is being supported by the organisation Dignity in Dying, which wants assisted suicide to be legal in Britain.

Sarah Wootton, the chief executive, said: "This is an important step forward for Debbie Purdy and others like her.

"If the DPP issues a policy on the law, Debbie may be able to live longer, knowing that if her suffering becomes too much to bear, she has the option of having an assisted death, with her husband by her side."

Dr Peter Saunders, of Care Not Killing, which is opposed to assisted suicide, said: "The High Court Judges have simply granted permission for Debbie Purdy to have a full hearing in court but have made it very clear that they are not giving her any grounds for optimism that her arguments will succeed.

"We welcome this opportunity to revisit the arguments and are confident that the court will find that, in order to protect vulnerable people from exploitation, the current law should be upheld."

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 assisted suicide in Britain have been rejected.

The most recent, in 2006, was defeated in the House of Lords by 148 votes to 100.

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