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Historic ruling – ‘A huge step towards compassionate law’, SAYS PURDY

People accompanying loved ones abroad to die will now know the conditions under which they will face prosecution following a unanimous decision by the House of Lords judiciary, the highest court in the UK, which was greeted by Ms Purdy as “a huge step towards a more compassionate law” today.

The landmark decision means that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will set out the circumstances under which someone may be prosecuted for accompanying someone to die abroad. Currently the law says that a person can be imprisoned for up to fourteen years for doing so, though no one has been prosecuted.

Debbie Purdy, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, said:

“I’m ecstatic – I feel like I’ve been given a reprieve. I want to live my life to the full, but I don’t want to suffer unnecessarily at the end of my life. This decision means that I can make an informed choice, with Omar, about whether he travels abroad with me to end my life because we will know exactly where we stand. I am grateful to the Law Lords for listening and rising to the challenge that this case presented. I also want to thank other campaigners like Diane Pretty, who is no longer with us, and all those whose efforts created this huge step towards a more compassionate law.”

Debbie Purdy has been fighting for clarity since 2007 through the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal, before today’s victory in House of Lords, arguing that existing practice does not allow her to make an informed choice about whether to go abroad to die and whether she can be accompanied to do so.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“This historic judgment ensures the law keeps up with changes in society and crucially, provides a more rational deterrent to abuse than a blanket ban which is never enforced. That must be better than the current legal muddle.

“A law which is not understood, enforced or supported by the majority of the public is not fit for purpose. The ruling is significant because it distinguishes between maliciously encouraging someone to commit suicide and compassionately assisting someone to die, in order that these acts are treated differently. It gives greater protection to those who may have been considered vulnerable to coercion.

“More and more people want choice about how they end their life. Yet, until now, the law has refused to say whether people would face prosecution for accompanying someone abroad to exercise this choice. The Director of Public Prosecutions will now have to provide this information. As a result parliamentarians will now come under increasing pressure to provide a proper solution to this problem, which doesn’t involve exporting it abroad.”

Debbie Purdy’s legal team argued that a lack of prosecution policy at present is in violation of her human rights, with particular reference to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In this landmark decision, the Law Lords overruled the precedent set by the case of Diane Pretty in 2003 and ruled that Debbie’s right to make decisions about her death is enshrined in her human rights. This applies to the wider public as well.

– Ends –

For interviews with Debbie Purdy and Dignity in Dying, Chief Executive Sarah Wootton, following the judgment please call Jo Cartwright on 07725 433025.

For further information on the judgment, interviews with other Dignity in Dying representatives and people with relevant personal stories please call James Harris on 0207 479 7739.

The judgment will be handed out in the House of Lords following the handing down, and will be published on the UK parliament website at

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
– To date no one who has accompanied a loved one to Dignitas has been prosecuted. However, people have been questioned by the Police and threatened with prosecution.

Debbie Purdy:

– Debbie Purdy is 46 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

About Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
– Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
– Surveys consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in the law on assisted dying.

Timeline of legal case:

– 30th July 2009 House of Lords result Judgment to be handed down in the House of Lords at 4.30pm
– 2nd and 3rd June 2009 House of Lords hearing House of Lords heard Debbie’s case over two days. The DPP’s barrister concedes that Article 8.1 is engaged.
– 19th February 2009 Court of Appeal Decision Debbie loses appeal, but judges very sympathetic and grant leave for appeal to the House of Lords
– 3rd and 4th February 2009 Court of Appeal Hearing Debbie’s appeal was heard by the Master of the Rolls at the Royal Courts of Justice
– 28th October 2008 High Court decision Debbie lost at the High Court. The High Court gave permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal
– 6th June 2008 High Court hearing Debbie’s case was heard at the Royal Court of Justice
– December 2007 Directions hearing Initial hearing of the facts
July 2007
– Evidence collection Bindman’s solicitors started to gather evidence from people who have travelled abroad with someone