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suicide, suicide tourism, assisted suicide
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Debbie Purdy

British Court Rejects Woman’s Appeal in Assisted Suicide Case

February 20, 2009 11:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Appeals Court ruled against Debbie Purdy, a 45-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer who fears that her husband will face charges if she ends her life at a Swiss clinic.

Appeals Court Issues Ruling

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Bradford resident Purdy had asked the court to revisit an earlier decision on assisted suicide by the High Court, out of concern for her husband, Omar Puente.

The Appeals Court said in its ruling that only parliament could decide to change the law, and that, “Notwithstanding our sympathy for the dreadful predicament in which Mrs Purdy and Mr Puente find themselves, this appeal must be dismissed.”

Purdy, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, says she is undeterred and will likely take her case to the House of Lords. MS is a disease of the central nervous system in which the body’s immune system starts to attack the insulating tissue that protects nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain.

“I’m not prepared for him to face the British justice system without me,” she said about her husband, whom she fears will be prosecuted if he accompanies her to end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland, according to the BBC. “That would be a nightmare, and far more painful than facing dying early.”

Background: Appeal for clarification sends euthanasia to Parliament

Last year, the debate over euthanasia was shifted over to lawmakers when Purdy lost her case in the British High Court and it was sent to Parliament. Purdy sought clarification on whether her husband could be prosecuted for aiding in her death.

The British High Court ultimately found that the lack of a clear answer did not impose on Purdy’s human rights.

Expressing sympathy for her plight, the court’s judges stated that their role was only to interpret the law and not offer any changes that might help Purdy.

“This would involve a change in the law. The offence of suicide is very widely drawn to cover all manner of different circumstances; only Parliament can change it,” Lord Justice Scott Baker told The Times of London.

Her bid for clarification came after it became clear that her husband of 10 years could face up to 14 years for aiding or counseling her under current British law, should he return to the United Kingdom after her passing. 

Although Purdy has no plans to immediately pursue an assisted suicide, she has expressed her intention to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland should her condition become unbearable.

The clinic, which has been linked to virtually all known British assisted suicides, has helped 101 British citizens end their lives in the last five years.

The death of the clinic’s most recent British patient, Daniel James, resulted in an investigation into his family’s role.

Dan James, who played for the England Universities rugby team and the England Students team, was paralyzed from the chest down when his spine collapsed during an accident in a training session in 2007.

His parents, Julie and Mark James, said in a statement that Dan’s death was “no doubt a welcome relief from the ‘prison’ he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence.”

Related Topic: “Suicide tourism”

People seeking assisted suicides have been traveling to Switzerland for years now, as part of a phenomenon being called "suicide tourism." CBS reported in 2003 that the country has the most liberal assisted suicide law in Europe, as the procedure, which requires that the patient carries out their own death, is legal as long as nobody makes a profit. Euthanasia, however, in which a doctor administers a lethal drug, is illegal.

In 2005, an American expatriate who had created Web sites to help people arrange to commit suicide in Cambodia was forced to shut down the sites after Cambodian authorities threatened legal action. Roger Graham, originally of California, claimed that euthanasia was not illegal in Cambodia.

In recent years, Mexico has become another popular suicide destination, reported the San Diego Reader in August. Tijuana, which was already a hotspot for those seeking medicine or medical procedures that are expensive or unavailable in other countries, is now seeing suicide tourists from as far as 8,000 miles away. Dr. Philip Nitschke, Australia's "Dr. Death" and the author of a book on suicide that was banned in several countries, says that Mexico is convenient and “relatively easy for people to access.”

Reference: Multiple sclerosis, end-of-life issues

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