Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Sunday, 15 November 2009

Concerns over right-to-die law

Debbie Purdy with her husband outside London's Royal Courts of Justice
Debbie Purdy is concerned her husband could be prosecuted

Campaigner Debbie Purdy, who won a landmark court victory to have the law on assisted suicide clarified, says the guidelines are still not clear enough.

The multiple sclerosis sufferer, 46, from Bradford, wanted to know if her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her end her life in Switzerland.

In July, Law Lords ruled the Director of Public Prosecution must specify when a person might face prosecution.

Ms Purdy said she still had concerns and the law must be changed.

This cannot finish until we have changed the law
Debbie Purdy

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer has published interim guidelines on when prosecutions could occur.

The issue has now been put out to public consultation and permanent policy will be published next spring.

Ms Purdy said: "He has said he's more likely to prosecute where somebody makes a financial gain but what exactly does he mean by that?

"My husband and I own this house together. If I die, he inherits it."

No one has been prosecuted for assisting someone's death, although the law says they could potentially face 14 years in prison.

The House of Lords, the highest court in the land, said the law was not as clear and precise as it should be.

Lethal dose

Ms Purdy had previously lost challenges in the High Court and Court of Appeal. The Lords ruling was her last chance of success in the UK legal system.

Ms Purdy, who is married to Omar Puente, 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 clear.

Ms Purdy said: "This cannot finish until we have changed the law because it's not just people like me who want the security of knowing that if life becomes unbearable there is the potential to end it and we won't have a duty to suffer."

Dr Peter Saunders, director of Care Not Killing, said: "It isn't clear to whom Ms Purdy is referring when she says that 'we' will change the law.

"It is for parliament, not the pro-euthanasia lobby, to decide whether the law should be changed, and parliament has twice in the last four years roundly rejected proposals to legalise assisted suicide as unsafe for the public."

The Ministry of Justice has previously said any change in the law was up to parliament.



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