Debbie Purdy

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Debbie Purdy (b. c. 1963) is a British political activist from Bradford, West Yorkshire, with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, notable for her challenge to the law in England and Wales as relates to assisted suicide.[1] On 20 September 2009, it was announced that guidelines on assisted suicide law will be published by the UK Government. The guidelines for England and Wales "come after a legal battle won by Debbie Purdy", as "Law Lords accepted earlier this year that [Purdy] had a right to know whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her to travel abroad to commit suicide."[2]

Purdy's case[edit]

Debbie Purdy and her counsel David Pannick QC argued that the Director of Public Prosecutions (Ken Macdonald QC) is infringing on her human rights by failing to clarify how the Suicide Act 1961 is enforced.[1]

The DPP counsel takes the position that the law does not require the DPP to make any further clarification of the Act, they argue that the Act and further information contained in the Code for Crown Prosecutors provides sufficient information.

Purdy's particular concern was to discover what, if any, actions her husband, Omar Puente, takes in assisting her suicide would lead to his prosecution.[1] The penalty for those who "aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another" is a maximum of 14 years.[3] No family member of the 92 Britons who have gone abroad for an assisted suicide has been prosecuted but some have been charged and have had to wait for months before hearing the charges have been dropped.[4] Purdy says that if her husband would be exposed to prosecution for helping her travel to Switzerland to a Dignitas clinic to die, she would make the journey sooner whilst she is able to travel unassisted.[5] This would save her husband from exposure to the law but also forces Purdy to make her decision on dying before she feels it is absolutely necessary.[5]

The hearing began on 2 October 2008 and was complete soon after. The venue was the High Court of Justice. It proceeded before Lord Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Aikens. In court the DPP said that Purdy could not be given any reassurance that her husband would not be prosecuted as the law was clear that assisting suicide is an offence.

On 10 December 2008 Sky TV broadcast a programme on which a man with motor neurone disease was shown committing suicide with assistance.[6] There had also been the UK case of a Mr James who went to Switzerland with the aid of his parents after being paralysed whilst playing rugby and the Department of Public Prosecutions determined that to prosecute the parents would be against the public interest.[6] These two events led to the issue of assisted suicide making the first story on the BBC's Newsnight. Purdy appeared to debate the issue and denied that it is society that makes disabled people wish to kill themselves and reasserted her belief that it is right to be able to seek assistance when one is physically incapable of committing suicide oneself.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Purdy met her husband in Singapore when he was playing with a band,[3] and married in 1998 in Bradford.[7] She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after she found her feet felt heavy when out dancing. Currently she uses a wheelchair for mobility and both her sight and hearing have begun to deteriorate.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Rozenberg, Joshua (2008-09-29). "Popular QC appointed to House of Lords". Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  2. ^ "New guidance on assisted suicide". BBC News. 2009-09-20. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  3. ^ a b "Don't jail my husband if he helps me to die, pleads MS sufferer". The Independent (London). 2008-09-12. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  4. ^ Roberts, Yvonne (2008-10-13). "Dying for guidance". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  5. ^ a b "MS sufferer launches assisted suicide case". Mirror. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  6. ^ a b c BBC Newsnight: TX 10 December 2008
  7. ^ Marriages England and Wales 1984-2006
  8. ^ Barrett, David (2008-09-27). "Right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy vows to take fight to House of Lords MS sufferer launches assisted suicide case". Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  9. ^ Driscoll, Margarette (2008-09-28). "The way we live". TimesOnline (London). Retrieved 2008-10-02.