Page last updated at 01:32 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 02:32 UK

Debbie Purdy's husband helping her die

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News

Omar Puente and Debbie Purdy
Ms Purdy's illness was diagnosed a little over a month after they met

The publication of guidance on when prosecutions should be brought in assisted suicide cases represents a victory for multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy.

But amid the celebrations, her husband Omar Puente still faces the prospect of helping her die.

Like many husbands, Omar Puente thinks his wife talks too much. They bicker a lot, he admits, but enjoy Indian takeaways - like any normal couple.

However, unlike anyone else, Mr Puente has seen his wife become the face of Britain's right-to-die campaign.

Debbie Purdy's fight for clarification of the circumstances in which her husband could be prosecuted for helping her commit suicide is being rewarded by the release of guidance on the issue.

Through every step of her battle, Mr Puente - a Cuban-born jazz violinist - has been at her side.

"It's a big day. I'm really happy for her," says the 47-year-old.

I don't think Debbie's going to die tomorrow... I could be run over by a bus. You just don't think about that
Omar Puente

After sharing her life for nearly 15 years, how does Mr Puente cope with media coverage focusing on the prospect of his wife's death?

"I love my wife and I'm going to lose a lot when she's gone. But I don't think she's going to die tomorrow.

"At the same time I could be run over by a bus. You just don't think about that - you think positive and enjoy life. We have a good life together, good times."

This philosophy has served the couple well since Ms Purdy's illness was diagnosed.

It happened barely a month after the couple met - in 1995 in a Singapore bar where, as a music journalist, she muddled through an interview with him despite neither speaking the other's language.

Mr Puente was working in Malaysia when she telephoned him with her news.

"I didn't really know what she meant because this isn't common in Cuba, so I said 'just take a plane and come back to me and we'll do something about it'," he says.

Despite the devastating diagnosis, their love grew.


"We were both foreigners in a third country and it was a necessity to help each other - that was one of the ingredients from the beginning of our strong relationship," he says.

"Since then we've stuck together - good times and bad."

They made the most of life in the far east. Even as Ms Purdy's mobility became too restricted to allow her to indulge in her love of dancing, Mr Puente would balance her feet on his and sweep her round the floor.

When Ms Purdy felt her deteriorating health left her with no choice but to go back to the UK, Mr Puente followed. They married in 1998.

"I arrived in England in the middle of winter and it was freezing cold and I thought 'what is this'," Mr Puente recalls.

"I struggled a lot at the beginning and people didn't want to hear the violin, so I played double bass in an orchestra to put food on the table."

As years went by, Mr Puente built a network of friends and saw his reputation as a musician grow - working with artists such as Jools Holland, Kirsty MacColl and Courtney Pine.

But since the death in 2002 of motor neurone disease sufferer Diane Pretty, who lost a legal battle to allow her husband to help her take her own life, Mr Puente and his wife have seen a cloud on the horizon.


Without assurances that her husband would be immune from prosecution, Ms Purdy insisted her only option was to die in Switzerland while still physically able to travel alone.

Her husband says: "If [the law] wasn't clear, Debbie would have to go to Switzerland before she was really ready to end her life."

Now, he hopes the guidance will give him - and other couples - the confidence to travel with their loved ones when the time comes.

"It will be clear for most people to decide whatever they want to do. If something's not clear at least they will feel able to ask."

Until such time, Mr Puente is keen to focus on playing music - and passing on his skills on to students at both Leeds College of Music and London's Trinity College of Music, where he teaches.

On 5 October, he releases his debut solo album - the Courtney Pine-produced From There to Here - followed by a launch event during London Jazz Festival in November.

Keen to take the positives from his experiences, he believes the rough and smooth of his life in England have helped him improve his work.

"Maybe I could have recorded it a long time ago but I've gathered experience in England and had the opportunity to play with great musicians here," he says.

"I'm really happy. It's time to get on with life and we're going to have a lot of fun."

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