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Significant breakthrough in Debbie Purdy House of Lords appeal – Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is engaged

There has been a significant breakthrough on the first day of Debbie Purdy’s House of Lords appeal.

Debbie Purdy, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, would like the option of an assisted death should her suffering become unbearable. She wants the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to set out the circumstances in which her husband would be prosecuted if he helps her travel to a foreign country for assistance to die where it is lawful.

At today’s hearing, in a groundbreaking decision, the DPP has conceded that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is engaged. Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life. The DPP conceded that Article 8 does extend to the manner and quality of Debbie’s death, as the quality of her death is undeniably linked to the quality of her life. This marks a change from her cases in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, wherein the DPP had argued that Article 8 does not cover end-of-life decision making.

In effect this means that Debbie and her legal team have won the first legal argument on which the case rests. The case will now centre on whether the state can interfere with Debbie’s right to take decisions about the quality of her life and death. The DPP argues that the state can – and that the Suicide Act and the prosecuting discretion it gives him is needed. Debbie’s legal team will argue that the ban on assisting suicide is not a legitimate interference with an individual’s rights, given the inconsistency between the 1961 statute and modern legal practice. For this reason, they will argue that the DPP should set out an explicit prosecuting policy in cases wherein relatives assist a terminally-ill loved one to attain an assisted death in a country where it is legal.

Debbie Purdy says:

“This is great news. It shows a culture change since the House of Lords judged that Article 8 was not engaged in Diane Pretty’s case, eight years ago. It also highlights that the courts are now willing to address this issue. I have experienced overwhelming support from the public throughout my case, I hope that we are now a step closer to having a law that everybody can respect and understand.”

Saimo Chahal, Debbie Purdy’s solicitor says:

“This concession, albeit late in the day, enables us to focus in the House of Lords on the second issue in the case which is whether the prohibition against assisted suicide and the failure to publish a policy on prosecutions in this area is in accordance with the law. What we are asking for is not something which will put the DPP’s discretion in a straightjacket, but rather for clarity so that Debbie and others like her have greater certainty. We recognise that they cannot have absolute certainty, but they could have much more certainty than they have now.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying says:

“A more compassionate approach to end-of-life decision making, where the dying adult is at the heart of the choices made, is now a step closer. The concession by the DPP reflects society’s increasing belief that people should be able to make decisions at the end of their lives with help from others. It gives Debbie hope for the progression of her case as well as giving hope to others for future legal challenges in this area.”


Note to Editors:

Debbie Purdy is available for interview today at approximately 4pm on College Green, Westminster (opposite Sovereign’s Entrance, House of Lords) – for more information, interviews with Debbie Purdy or Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton, please contact Jo Cartwright, Campaigns and Press Officer on 020 7479 7739/07725433025.

For further information and interviews with Saimo Chahal, Debbie Purdy’s solicitor, please contact Stefan on 07904229277.

Further information:

The Appeal against the decision of the Appeal Court takes place on Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd June 2009 at the House of Lords, London.

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

Diane Pretty:

– August 2001: Mrs Pretty asks to the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert Smith QC to grant her husband immunity from prosecution should he help her to commit suicide. The DPP acknowledges that Mrs Pretty and her family are experiencing “terrible suffering” – but he refuses to grant immunity.

– August 31, 2001: A High Court Judge grants Mrs Pretty the right to challenge the DPP’s decision through the courts. She claims it represents an infringement of her human rights.

– October 2001: Three High Court judges, headed by Lord Justice Tuckey, reject Mrs Pretty’s appeal. They conclude that the UK is not ready to sanction the idea of assisted suicide.

– November 2001: Five Law Lords confirm the decision of the High Court. Mrs Pretty announces that she will make one last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

– March 2002: A 90 minute hearing in the European Court in front of seven Human Rights judges.

– April 29, 2002: Human Rights judges in Strasbourg rejected the appeal.

– May 11, 2002: Diane Pretty dies at a hospice near her home.

Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.
– Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
– Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population support a change in the law on assisted dying.
– 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 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 traveling 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 883 people to end their lives – over 115 of these were from the UK
– Dignitas has upward of 786 members in the UK