Debbie Purdy: Right-to-die rules ‘not good enough’

Debbie Purdy didn't believe guidelines went far enough. Picture: Getty

Debbie Purdy didn't believe guidelines went far enough. Picture: Getty

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ONE of the UK’s leading right- to-die campaigners has warned that the legal guidelines she fought for and won do not prevent people “dying badly”.

In an article written before her death last month, right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy said the guidelines from a landmark House of Lords ruling which redefined the law in England and Wales did not go far enough.

Ms Purdy, 51, from Bradford, who won the ruling which resulted in new government guidelines on assisted suicide in 2009, died on 23 December after deciding to end her life, having battled primary progressive multiple sclerosis for nearly 20 years.

Her victory did not affect Scotland, where right-to-die issues are devolved and separate, but a bill started by the late independent MSP Margo Macdonald to allow assisted suicide is currently being considered by a committee in Holyrood.

In an article written shortly before she died through refusing food and published yesterday in the Independent on Sunday, Ms Purdy said Lord Falconer’s bill at Westminster to allow assisted suicide in England and Wales, was “not good enough as it is” although she hoped it would pass into law.

And she admitted her husband, Omar Puente, had wanted her to change her mind “up until the very last minute”.

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She wrote: “I just hope others succeed where I have ultimately failed, and that Britain will see an appropriate assisted dying law soon, so that no-one else has to work as hard as I have to have some choice and control over the way I die.”

She added: “Three times I became semiconscious and ran temperatures. Omar and the doctors thought I was going to die, but my body kept going against my will.

“This final hurdle added to my conviction that we need to change the law. I do not think deciding to end your life should be easy, but it should not cause so much pain and difficulty to you or those who love you; illness is painful and degrading enough, we don’t need finding a solution to be as unbearable and undignified as this.”

At present the guidelines introduced by Keir Starmer QC, the then director of public prosecutions, mean the motives of those assisting suicide would be at the centre of the decision over whether they should be prosecuted.

The Assisted Dying Bill has already been through several parliamentary hoops but supporters of a change claimed opponents were determined to “strangle” it by using up time, limited in light of the upcoming general election.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally-ill patients judged to have six months or less to live, who request it.

But Ms Purdy accused politicians of “risking lives” by not acting.

“The guidelines were great as far as they went, but they were not embodied in law, rightly so; only the House of Commons can do that. But it seems our elected representatives would rather risk our lives than their jobs and have consistently refused to consider legislation that would help make many deaths more tolerable,” she wrote.

“I hope that the committee will not try to advance a claim that all doctors oppose this legislation where this is clearly not the case.”

However, opponents fear that allowing assisted suicide will open the door for pressure to be put on the elderly and those with serious health conditions to take their own lives.

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