MS sufferer takes suicide case to Lords

LONDON (Reuters) - Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy takes her legal bid to force the government to clarify the law on assisted suicide to the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy leaves the High Court in London, October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Purdy, 46, from Bradford, wants to force the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to give assurances her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped her go to a euthanasia facility abroad.

The High Court and the Appeal Court have rejected her case but she has been allowed to challenge their verdicts in the Lords.

“This is an opportunity for the highest court in the land to listen to what the public want and clarify a law that has existed, without being updated, for far too long,” she said.

“I am optimistic that the House of Lords is listening and will give me the clarity I need.”

The law says assisting suicide is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

But since 1992, almost 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland -- where assisted suicide is legal -- without their relatives being prosecuted.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying said 34 Britons were currently preparing to travel abroad to die and 115 had gone to a foreign country for assisted suicide since 2002.

Wheelchair-bound Purdy is worried that her professional musician husband Omar Puente would be treated harshly by the authorities because he is Cuban.

She argues that if she did not receive assurances that he would not be prosecuted, she would have to travel abroad to commit suicide earlier than necessary.

Her lawyers say that the DPP should be required to issue specific policy guidelines on suicide assistance prosecutions.

But so far judges have ruled that the DPP’s failure to clarify the law did not infringe her human rights.

Lawyers for the DPP have said the law does not require a specific policy and that the provisions of the 1961 Suicide Act, which make aiding and abetting suicide punishable with a jail term, provide sufficient information.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison