Wednesday, October 29, 2008

British woman with MS loses her appeal for assisted suicide

From AFP Oct. 29:

LONDON — A woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis lost Oct. 29 a legal challenge over whether her husband could be prosecuted if he helps her to commit

Wheelchair-bound Debbie Purdy, 45, launched the case earlier this month, asking the High Court in London to clarify the law on assisted suicide as her health is rapidly deteriorating.

But Lord Justice Scott Baker said Wednesday that the law was clear, and while he had sympathy for Purdy only parliament could change the law.

"We cannot leave this case without expressing great sympathy for Ms. Purdy, her husband and others in a similar position who wish to know in advance whether they will face prosecution," said Baker.

But he added: "This would involve a change in the law. The offence of assisted suicide is very widely drawn to cover all manner of different circumstances; only parliament can change it."

Purdy, reacting outside the court, said she was "really disappointed" with the ruling and would take her case to the Court of Appeal.

"People need clarity, and I don't feel any clarity. I hope the Court of Appeal will take a different view but, in the meantime, I'd like Parliament to take the judges' hint to look at the law," she said.

Purdy has said she plans "to live forever," but if her condition becomes unbearable she wants to decide when she dies. She has joined Dignitas, the Swiss body which operates clinics where people can go to commit suicide.

Her ability to carry out everyday tasks is rapidly diminishing, and she now lacks the strength to propel an ordinary wheelchair and has to use an electrically-operated model.

Prosecutors argued that the law does not require it to make a specific policy of the kind sought by Purdy.

They argue that legislation governing suicide dating from 1961 is sufficient. The law makes aiding and abetting suicide punishable by up to 14 years in prison, in addition to existing special guidelines for prosecutors.

Purdy added: "I want politicians to debate what needs to be done because if people talk about needing safeguards, protecting the vulnerable, we have to know what is necessary to protect people."