MS sufferer in plea to MPs after assisted suicide appeal turned down

PARLIAMENT is being urged to end the "cruel" uncertainty over the law on assisted suicide after Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, yesterday lost her Court of Appeal bid to clarify it.

Three appeal judges spoke of Ms Purdy's "dreadful predicament", but told her they could not give her "the absolute security of mind she is seeking".

Ms Purdy, 45, from Undercliffe, Bradford, West Yorkshire, believes the time may come when primary progressive MS will make her life intolerable and she will want to end it.

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She wants to be sure that her husband, Omar Puente, a Cuban violinist, will not be prosecuted if he helps her travel abroad to die in a country where assisted suicide is legal.

Yesterday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other appeal judges, Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Ward, ruled Ms Purdy was not legally entitled to the kind of specific guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions she was seeking.

The DPP could not "act as her legal adviser" or provide her "with the absolute security of mind she is seeking", they said.

"Notwithstanding our sympathy for the dreadful predicament in which Ms Purdy and Mr Puente find themselves, this appeal must be dismissed."

After yesterday's ruling, Ms Purdy said the judges had indicated that Mr Puente was "unlikely" to be prosecuted in the light of the case of the young rugby player Dan James, who was left paralysed by training injuries. The DPP had decided not to prosecute his parents for assisting him to die as it would not be "in the public interest".

Ms Purdy said she had "won the argument" and was one step closer to the clarification she needed, even though she had lost her appeal. It was now for parliament to end the remaining public uncertainty.

She said of the judges: "They've done their best to put my mind at rest, but I don't think it is enough. We need to make sure whatever rules govern this society are ones society is happy with in this century."

She added she would not make any plans for further action until she had spoken in detail with her lawyer.

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In England and Wales, aiding and abetting suicide is a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison under the 1961 Suicide Act.

Ms Purdy, whose legal action was supported by Dignity in Dying – formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 1995 and has been a wheelchair user since 2001.

She says she wants to "live forever".

However, she is a member of Dignitas, the Swiss organisation which operates specialist euthanasia clinics.

Now gradually losing strength in her upper body, she plans to travel to Switzerland to end her life if her condition becomes unbearable.

Dignitas opened in 1998 and has so far helped more than 100 UK citizens end their lives. It currently has upwards of 694 UK members.

In yesterday's unanimous ruling, the appeal judges said that "all that could be done" was for Ms Purdy to rely on a combination of the general guidance available on the law and the Dan James case.


BEFORE being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago, Debbie Purdy enjoyed many adventures around the world.

She spent time living and working in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Norway and the United States, taking up various jobs, including reviewing bands, selling jewellery, waitressing and dancing.

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But now confined to a wheelchair and with her disease worsening, she wants to be sure that if she is no longer able to enjoy life, her husband will not be prosecuted if he is deemed to have assisted her suicide.

She said: "For me it's a matter of life or death. I don't want to think about dying. I enjoy life, I have a lot of fun, my husband is really wonderful."

Ms Purdy, who has been in a wheelchair since 2001, said she still enjoys life in her adapted home in Bradford, but is having increasing problems.

She uses an electric wheelchair because her arms are no longer strong enough to propel a manual wheelchair, she takes painkillers every day, her feet are swollen due to bad circulation and she is unable to turn over in bed unaided.

Ms Purdy said that she does not know for sure that she will decide to end her life.

"At the moment I don't know when or if that will happen – it might not," she has said.

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