October 29, 2008 / 11:23 AM / 9 years ago

MS sufferer loses assisted suicide case

LONDON (Reuters) - A woman with multiple sclerosis lost her High Court bid on Wednesday to clarify the law to ensure her husband would not face prosecution if he helped her to commit suicide abroad.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy leaves the High Court in London October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Debbie Purdy, 45, from Bradford wanted the court to force the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to give assurances her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped her go to a euthanasia facility in Switzerland at some stage in the future.

The law states that assisting suicide is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

But since 1992, almost 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland -- where assisted suicide is legal -- without their relatives being prosecuted.

London’s High Court ruled that the DPP’s failure to clarify the law does not infringe her human rights, the Press Association reported.

Lord Justice Scott Baker expressed sympathy for Purdy and others “who wish to know in advance whether they will face prosecution for doing what many would regard as something that the law should permit, namely to help a loved one go abroad to end their suffering when they are unable to do it on their own.”

But he said the case would require a change in the law which only parliament could enact.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy and her husband Omar speak to the media outside the High Court in London October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

However Purdy was given leave to appeal against the decision because of the public interest in the case.

Wheelchair-bound Purdy is worried that her professional musician husband Omar would be treated harshly by the authorities because he is Cuban.

She has argued that if she did not receive assurances that he would not be prosecuted, she would have to travel abroad to commit suicide earlier than necessary.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy is held by her husband Omar as they leave the High Court in London October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

She said she was very disappointed and surprised by the verdict.

“We still don’t know how we can make sure that we stay within the law because I‘m not prepared for Omar to break the law, I‘m not prepared for him to risk jail,” she told reporters outside court.

Lawyers for the DPP say the law does not require a specific policy and that the provisions of the 1961 Suicide Act, which make aiding and abetting suicide punishable with a jail term, provide sufficient information.

Earlier this month, the parents of Daniel James, 23, who was paralysed while playing rugby, helped him commit suicide in Switzerland.

West Mercia police said a report on his death will be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison.

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