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Dignity in Dying’s response to the DPP’s guidlines on assisted suicide


Dignity in Dying hails breakthrough for greater patient choice and protection at the end of life

23 September 2009 at 11.40am

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has today clarified the law on assisted suicide. He has set out factors both in favour and against prosecution. Debbie Purdy, whose legal case led to today’s policy, said:

“I am relieved that common sense has won the day. I, and many others like me, want to be able to make informed decisions about the time and manner of our deaths should our suffering become unbearable. We want to know whether someone we love will be prosecuted for helping us to die, even if that assistance is simply being with us at the end. Today, and thanks to the Law Lords and the DPP, we can make these decisions in the knowledge of what the likely consequences will be.”

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

“The guidelines look sensible. In order to protect the public there will understandably be some situations were prosecutions are warranted. The guidelines sensibly distinguish between compassionate behaviour and behaviour which is potentially malicious. A law made in the 20th century has been clarified for the 21st. Society has moved on. The overwhelming majority of us do not want to see people prosecuted when they have reacted compassionately to a loved one’s request for help to die. Whilst concerns need to be addressed through the consultation, this policy courageously seeks to allay fears of creating a duty to die whilst not imposing a duty to suffer.

“The policy represents a significant breakthrough for greater patient choice and protection at the end of life. It formally recognises that in certain circumstances people should not be prosecuted for helping somebody die. It doesn’t change the law, which is a job for Parliament, what it does do is clarify how the law will be implemented. This discretion was given to the DPP by the 1961 Suicide Act itself.

“The law has evolved in line with public opinion, but there is still progress to be made. Up-front safeguards are surely better than relying on the threat of retrospective prosecution. Ultimately we need a law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults the choice of an assisted death within strict legal safeguards.”


For further information or to arrange an interview with a Dignity in Dying spokesperson please contact James Harris on 020 7479 7739 / 07725 433025.

Available for interview:

– Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying

– Debbie Purdy

Debbie is available for interviews, but due to ill health only limited slots are available between 11.30am to 2.30pm. Priority will be given to national broadcast media.

– Edward Turner
Edward is a Trustee and Treasurer of Dignity in Dying. Edward accompanied his Mother, Dr Anne Turner, who suffered from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) to Dignitas in January 2006.

– Lesley Close
Lesley is a Patron of Dignity in Dying. Lesley accompanied her brother John Close, who suffered from MND, to Dignitas in May 2003.

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.

Dignity in Dying and Debbie Purdy’s case:

– Dignity in Dying supported 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 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. Dignity in Dying campaigns within the current law to introduce medically assisted dying for terminally ill adults

– 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


– There is no connection between Dignitas and Dignity and Dying

– Dignitas opened in 1998 and the clinic has so far helped at least 885 people to end their lives – over 117 of these were from the UK

– Dignitas has upward of 786 members in the UK