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Historic Judicial Review to Challenge Law on Assisted Suicide


Historic Judicial Review to Challenge Law on Assisted Suicide

“I just want clarity” says Debbie Purdy as she challenges law on assisted suicide

A landmark review of the law on assisted suicide takes place on 2nd and 3rd October at the High Court as Debbie Purdy asks the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify the law on assisted suicide.
Ms Purdy, 45, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, is challenging the law which could leave her husband open to imprisonment if he helps her to end her life in a foreign country where assisted suicide is legal.

She 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 to allow her to have an assisted death. If her husband is liable for prosecution Ms Purdy would have to travel abroad alone, and would have to contemplate going while she is healthy enough to do so, but before she is ready to die.

Almost 100 British citizens have been faced with no alternative but to travel abroad to die. To date, no one has been prosecuted for accompanying a loved one abroad to end their life.

Debbie Purdy said:

“I just want clarity so I know whether or not my husband Omar will be prosecuted or questioned by the police if I decide to travel abroad to die and he accompanies me. There are a great many people like me who want to choose how they die if life becomes unbearable and the law as it stands is unclear.

“I want to know what the law considers to be assisting a suicide, is Omar open to prosecution if he helps me to into a taxi to the airport, or books my flights?”

If the law is clarified and Omar is not liable for prosecution, Ms Purdy can delay any decision to travel abroad to die. If he is liable for prosecution, it may result in her travelling abroad to die before she is ready.

Ms. Purdy said:

“I enjoy my life and the people around me, and I don’t want to die until my condition becomes unbearable. If the law is not clarified, I may be forced to travel abroad alone before I am ready. But if I know that my husband will not be prosecuted for accompanying me to Dignitas, I will be able to wait until I’m ready to go because I can rely on his help.”

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

“This case is about choice. Debbie should have the option to die at a time of her choosing should she feel her suffering has become unbearable. Debbie’s case highlights the desperate dilemma that some terminally ill people are faced with at the end of their lives under the current legal system. Not only do we need clarity for those going abroad to die, but we need a change in the law here. Providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, would protect vulnerable people and give them dignity and choice at their end of their lives.”

Debbie is represented by David Pannick QC and Ms. Saimo Chahal.


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 Judicial Review will take place on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd October 2008 at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. The result is expected 1 to 3 weeks after the Review

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 is the leading organisation in the UK for greater patient choice at the end of life. Dignity in Dying wants the option of assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults in unbearable suffering, and 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.
  • Dignity in Dying campaigns within the current law to give terminally ill, mentally sound adults, the option of an assisted death, subject to a range of legal safeguards.
  • 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, nearly 100 of these were from the UK
  • Dignitas has 694 members in the UK