Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 12:09 UK

Judge's assisted suicide sympathy

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers
It's impossible to say one view is right and another wrong, says Lord Phillips

Britain's top judge has said he feels "enormous sympathy" for patients forced to choose assisted suicide.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers told the Daily Telegraph it was a "very difficult" area of law.

The president of the new Supreme Court said he sympathised with those facing a "hideous termination of their life".

The Director of Public Prosecutions is clarifying the law after a multiple sclerosis sufferer won her legal battle at the House of Lords in July.

'Pain and distress'

Debbie Purdy, 46, from Bradford, wants assurances her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her die in the Swiss centre Dignitas.

The DPP Keir Starmer is due to publish his guidance later this month followed by a permanent policy after public consultation next spring.

We do not believe it would be appropriate to seek to amend a passing government Bill which will undoubtedly already be dealing with a wide variety of other complex issues
Ministry of Justice spokesman

Lord Phillips told the newspaper: "I have enormous sympathy with anyone who finds themselves facing a quite hideous termination of their life as a result of one of these horrible diseases, in deciding they would prefer to end their life more swiftly and avoid that [prolonged] death as well as avoiding the pain and distress that might cause their relatives."

He added: "Different people have very strongly held beliefs which are in conflict.

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

There have also been several attempts to legalise assisted suicide in Britain but these have been rejected.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman told the BBC: "We do not believe it would be appropriate to seek to amend a passing government Bill which will undoubtedly already be dealing with a wide variety of other complex issues."

He added that the "emotive and contentious" issue would be "most appropriately" dealt with through a Private Member's Bill.



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