The Joy of a Woman Who Has Just Taken Britain One Step Closer to Legitimising Assisted Suicide . . . 'This Has Given Me My Life Back.'; MS Victim Celebrates after Prosecutors Are Ordered to Clarify Law on Assisted Suicide
Byline: Tom Kelly
SHE wears the ecstatic grin of a woman who has just won the lottery.
This was Debbie Purdy yesterday after a historic legal decision took her a step closer to dying on her own terms.
The multiple sclerosis sufferer, confined to a wheelchair since 2001, won a Law Lords ruling which could lead to the threat of prosecution being lifted from people who assist suicide, as she hopes her husband will do for her when the time comes.
Miss Purdy declared: 'It's terrific. It gives me my life back.'
But while she celebrated, critics said the landmark decision 'drove a coach and horses' through the Suicide Act, with the law effectively being changed without reference to Parliament.
Miss Purdy, 46, has been fighting for years for the assurance that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her commit suicide at the Swiss Dignitas clinic. Yesterday, the Law Lords ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to spell out exactly when the state will take action against someone who helps a friend or relative take their own life abroad.
Though the ruling cannot change the law on assisting suicide, which remains punishable by up to 14 years in jail, Miss Purdy's lawyers admitted it was a significant step towards the eventual legalisation of assistance for suicide in certain circumstances. The woman at the centre of the case was in no doubt she had won a major victory.
She plans to go to Switzerland to kill herself when her pain becomes unbearable and wants her husband, Cuban violinist Omar Puente, to be at her side - as long as she can be sure he will not be prosecuted .
Lord Pannick, QC, for Miss Purdy, had told the Law Lords that, unless the law was clarified, she might be forced to end her life earlier than she planned because waiting until she was totally dependent on her husband could expose him to prosecution .
If the risk of prosecution was sufficiently low, she could wait until the very last minute before travelling with his assistance .
Miss Purdy, from Bradford, said after the ruling: 'It feels like everything else doesn't matter and now I can just be a normal person.
'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.'
More than 100 British citizens have ended their lives at Dignitas, and no one who has accompanied them has ever been prosecuted .
The reasons why legal action has not been taken have never been made clear. Mr Starmer had also said it would not be possible to give an advance guarantee of immunity.
Miss Purdy had claimed that the uncertainty over the issue breached her human rights and demanded a clarification of the law .
Giving judgment, Lord Hope, sitting with Lords Phillips, Brown and Neuberger and Baroness Hale, said it was no part of the Law Lords' function to decriminalise assisted suicide ..., which was up to Parliament.
Their function was to say what the law was and, if it was uncertain, to clarify it.
They upheld Miss Purdy's argument that the DPP should put in writing the factors that he regarded as relevant.
He should be required to set out an 'offencespecific policy' identifying the facts and circumstances that he would take into account in deciding whether it was in the public interest to prosecute under the Suicide Act, the judgment said.
Definitive guidance is expected next year although there is likely to be an interim report by September.
The dramatic ruling comes only days after the Royal College of Nursing declared it was dropping its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide . …