Euthanasia law challenge fails

A High Court bid by euthanasia campaigners to challenge the law on assisted suicide has failed.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy brought the case with the support of ‘Dignity in Dying’, a group that campaigns for change in the law on assisted suicide.

She claimed to be seeking clarification on whether or not her husband will face prosecution if he helps her travel to Switzerland to end her life if her condition worsens.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Sir Ken MacDonald, had earlier turned down her request. He explained that she was effectively asking for a change in the law, which lies outside his authority.

Today’s case was a judicial review of that decision. Two judges agreed with the DPP that meeting her request would need legislative change which only Parliament could carry out.

Lord Justice Scott Baker expressed sympathy for Miss Purdy but said: “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.”

Leading palliative care specialist Dr David Jeffrey warned earlier this month that “articulate” campaigns to weaken the law on assisted suicide could put vulnerable people at risk.

“Some of those who have been prominent in campaigns to change the law have been articulate and able to express themselves confidently,” he said.

“My concern is with people who are frightened, possibly depressed and bit confused.

“These are people who don’t know where to turn and who feel they are a burden. The law has to protect them.”

Around 100 British people have so far travelled to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland to end their lives.

The figure includes 23-year-old Daniel James, who was left paralysed from the chest down after a rugby accident.

One doctor described Daniel’s death as a “tragedy” which might have been avoided with the right help and counselling.

Baroness Warnock, who recently suggested that elderly dementia sufferers have a “duty to die”, defended Daniel’s parents for taking him to the clinic.

But Paddy Masefield, Patron of the Coalition of Disabled People, wrote in a letter to The Observer this weekend that her comments were “extraordinarily objective”.

He warned that allowing similar assisted suicide “will leave us all culpable for even greater losses that may prove much harder to live with than the experience of disability itself.”