Page last updated at 23:45 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 00:45 UK

Result due in right-to-die case

Debbie Purdy
Debbie Purdy is concerned her husband could be prosecuted

A woman with multiple sclerosis is due to find out whether the Law Lords have backed her bid to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Debbie Purdy, 46, from Bradford, is considering going to Switzerland to end her life, but fears her husband may be charged on his return to the UK.

She wants an assurance her husband, Omar Puente, will not be prosecuted.

Although no-one has been prosecuted in such circumstances, they could potentially face 14 years in prison.

Losing strength

And the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has said it would not be possible to give a guarantee of immunity from legal action.

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Debbie Purdy: "I will have to die alone"

Ms Purdy has already lost challenges in the High Court and Court of Appeal, and the Lords ruling represents her last chance of success in the UK legal system.

If that ruling goes against her, her only option will be to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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.

She has suggested that at some point she may travel to Switzerland to take a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by doctors at the controversial Dignitas organisation.

More than 100 UK citizens have so far ended their lives at Dignitas, and no-one who has accompanied them has ever been prosecuted on their return to the UK.

However, the reasons why legal action has not been taken have never been made clear.

And Ms Purdy, who wants her husband to be at her side when she dies, wants to be confident he will not be arrested upon his return.

Impossible dilemma

She said that without that assurance she faces an "impossible dilemma" over what to do.

Her legal team said that if the law was not clarified she would have to end her life earlier than she wanted to.

But if the risk of prosecution was sufficiently low, she would be able to wait until the last moment before travelling to Switzerland with her husband's assistance.

Lord Pannick QC, who is representing Ms Purdy, said: "It is ironic that the policy designed to protect the sanctity of life will have the effect of shortening the life of terminally ill persons such as Ms Purdy."

An attempt to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill to lift the threat of prosecution facing those who help somebody kill themselves overseas was rejected last month.

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.

The issue has been further highlighted this week by an admission by former GP Dr Michael Irwin, of Cranleigh, Surrey, that he provided financial assistance for a terminally ill cancer patient to travel to Dignitas.

Dr Irwin, a long-standing euthanasia campaigner, challenged police to arrest him after revealing that he had written a cheque for £1,500 towards the cost of 58-year-old Raymond Cutkelvin's assisted suicide in 2007.



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SEE ALSO
MS woman 'facing dilemma'
02 Jun 09 |  Health
Woman loses assisted suicide case
19 Feb 09 |  Health
Q&A: Assisted suicide ruling
29 Oct 08 |  Health
Dignitas: Swiss suicide helpers
14 Jul 09 |  Health

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