By Jenna Murphy and John Jalsevac

LONDON, England, June 13, 2008, ( – A British woman with multiple sclerosis was granted her request for a full judicial review on Tuesday in her quest to find out if her husband can help her commit suicide without fear of being prosecuted.

Debbie Purdy, 45, says she fears that her husband would be prosecuted if she should choose to end her life with his assistance in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Purdy is currently a member of Switzerland’s “Dignitas” group, which specializes in administering lethal doses of barbiturates to those who wish to die. In Britain, however, aiding or abetting a suicide is a crime punishable by law with up to 14 years imprisonment.

Purdy is seeking the judicial review in the hope of forcing the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, to disclose what the government’s policy is on prosecuting those who aid or abet suicide in a foreign country. In the past Macdonald has refused to tell Purdy what guidelines crown prosecutors follow in such cases.

Purdy’s case is set to be heard in the High Court in October. According to a report in the Telegraph, the 45-year-old woman is “ecstatic” about the ruling. Currently, says Purdy, she is very happy with her life, but she is glad to be given the opportunity to know what will happen to her husband, Omar Puente, if he helps her when she decides to kill herself in the future.

She said that knowing whether or not Puente would be prosecuted will allow her to live longer. Purdy told the Telegraph that if she found out that her husband might be prosecuted she would have to kill herself sooner, before her condition degenerates to the point where she would need Puente’s assistance.

“Right now I love my life, I love living, I am a happy person and I don’t want to be thinking ‘suppose the pain gets unbearable and I want to end my life’.

“I don’t want to consider dying before I have to. If I have the support of my husband to collect medical information and buy tickets then I can make that decision much later.”

Purdy explained that her quest for clarification from the government is being done out of love for her husband. “For 13 years, I’ve been in love with this man, he’s everything to me, and I’m not about to see him take a risk of prosecution because of something that’s happening to me.”

“That’s more frightening to me than going to Switzerland by myself and ending my life before I’m ready.”

Currently citizens of the U.K. cannot obtain assisted suicide, and must go out of the country to do so, though there is a strong movement in the direction of legalizing assisted suicide in the country. The most recent of many attempts to secure the right to kill oneself took place in 2006; it was rejected in the House of Lords, however, by 148 votes to 100.

Assisted Suicide opponents, however, have observed that simply because Purdy has been granted a judicial review does not mean that she will obtain the information that she desires. “The High Court Judges have simply granted permission for Debbie Purdy to have a full hearing in court but have made it very clear that they are not giving her any grounds for optimism that her arguments will succeed,” said Dr. Peter Saunders, of Care Not Killing, a UK-based organization committed to ensuring quality palliative care as opposed to euthanasia.

“We welcome this opportunity to revisit the arguments and are confident that the court will find that, in order to protect vulnerable people from exploitation, the current law should be upheld,” Dr. Saunders said.

In another memorable case that occurred in 2001, Diane Pretty, who had motor-neuron disease, similarly sought to maintain her husband’s innocence should he help her to commit suicide. Pretty was denied her request in court and died a peaceful natural death only months later with her husband at her side.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) intervened in the 2001 trial through awareness campaigns and lobbying efforts. Representatives from SPUC have announced that they will take similar action in Ms. Purdy’s case.

Switzerland is one of three countries worldwide where assisted suicide is legal. Both Belgium and the Netherlands also permit it. Of the three, however, only Switzerland allows foreigners to make use of their clinics, which has given rise to the morbid industry of “death tourism” in the country.

The state of Oregon has also passed a law enabling anyone thought to have only 6 months (or less) of life remaining to terminate their lives with the approval of a doctor and two witnesses.

  To read related articles:

Assisted Suicide Bill Passes California Assembly

Swiss Euthanasia Group Dignitas Opening British Office

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide:
  A Joint Statement by Doctors and Lawyers


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