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Debbie Purdy denied clarity on assisted suicide. MS sufferer vows to fight on as she calls the law ‘a confused mess’ (29th October 2008)

29th October 2008

Debbie Purdy denied clarity on assisted suicide

MS sufferer vows to fight on as she calls the law “a confused mess”

Debbie Purdy has learnt today that she has lost her battle for legal clarity on the law which could leave her husband open to imprisonment if he helps her to travel to a foreign country, where assisted suicide is legal, to end her life.

Ms Purdy, 45, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, said:

“I’m disappointed and shocked that I’ve been refused clarity. I still don’t know what will happen if my husband accompanies me abroad to die. Will he be questioned, investigated or arrested? It’s outrageous that people don’t know where they stand within the law. The situation for me and others is a confused mess.

“Omar and I have had so many messages of support from people. People believe in the right to clarity and choice – and I feel let down by the verdict. I will continue to campaign so that I and others do not have to worry about whether the people we love will face prosecution after we are gone.”

Debbie asked the High Court to clarify the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) policy on the 1961 Suicide Act.

Debbie would like the option of travelling to Switzerland to receive medical help to end her life should her suffering become unbearable. But the law in England and Wales states that assisting a suicide is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment and there is no law in the UK at present to allow her to have an assisted death.

Debbie has vowed to fight on to achieve clarity in the law. The High Court today gave Debbie permission to appeal the judgement. Given the public interest in the case and Debbie’s deteriorating condition, the judges agreed to expedite the case so that it is heard as soon as possible at the Court of Appeal.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying which is supporting Debbie’s case said:

“While we welcome the Judges decision to fast track Debbie’s appeal, we are disappointed with the verdict. All Debbie wanted was some clarity so that she could make an informed decision, something that is common sense to most of us.

“People want choice at the end of life. This has been demonstrated by the huge public support for Debbie and others in her position. The current law needs to be clarified, but there is also a wider problem as acknowledged by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Times on Monday. Our laws are failing to promote choice and protect vulnerable people. At present people are travelling abroad to die, there are ‘mercy killings’, botched suicides and some doctors are already assisting their patients to die.

“It is not acceptable to defend a status quo, which condemns some terminally ill adults to unnecessary suffering against their wishes. There is clearly an urgent need for a debate around assisted dying and it’s time that debate was had, both inside and outside of Parliament.”


For more information, interviews with Debbie Purdy or Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton, and details of previous cases similar to Debbie’s, please contact Melissa Milner on 020 7793 4035 / 07976 636 228 or Daniel Harris on 020 7793 4038 /

Further information:

The current law:

  • Assisting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment in England and Wales
  • Section 2 (1) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years
  • Section 2 (4) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: No proceedings shall be instituted for an offence under this section except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions

Debbie Purdy:

  • Debbie Purdy is 45 years of age
  • She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, with her husband Omar Puente
  • Debbie was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) on 21 March 1995, aged 31
  • Debbie?s case is funded through legal aid

Dignity in Dying:

  • Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. Alongside better end-of-life care and treatment, Dignity in Dying wants mentally competent, terminally ill adults in unbearable suffering to have the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards. Dignity in Dying has more than 100,000 supporters
  • Dignity in Dying supports Debbie Purdy’s case for the DPP to clarify his prosecuting policy around relatives who accompany loved ones overseas to have an assisted death in countries where it is a legal practice, or help them in any way. The least Debbie, and others like her, deserve is to know where they and their families stand within the law
  • Dignity in Dying believes that denying Debbie adequate choice over the end of her life is also denying her dignity
  • Dignity in Dying strongly believes that we need an assisted dying law in the UK, so that people like Debbie would not have to contemplate having to travel overseas to have an assisted death.
  • A UK law would mean that Debbie, and others like her, would not be forced to contemplate dying before they are ready. An assisted dying law in the UK would lengthen people’s lives, as they would not have to contemplate committing violent suicides, mercy killings or travelling abroad to die
  • Surveys consistently show that more than 80% of the UK population would like to see a change in the law


  • There is no connection between Dignitas and Dignity and Dying
  • Dignitas opened in 1998 and the clinic has so far helped 868 people to end their lives, 100 of these were from the UK
  • Dignitas has 694 members in the UK