Lords to hear appeal for assisted suicide overseas

Today the House of Lords will host the latest round of a terminally ill woman’s battle to change the law on assisted suicide.

Should the law on assisted suicide be weakened?

Listen to Lord Falconer debate the issue with George Pitcher of The Daily Telegraph on BBC Radio 4.

Debbie Purdy wants assurance that her husband will not be prosecuted for helping her travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, in order to end her life.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) says that meeting her request would demand a legislative change which only Parliament has power to implement.

The DPP’s stance has been vindicated by rulings of the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

A House of Lords ruling in Miss Purdy’s favour could effectively alter the UK’s assisted suicide law by creating one form of assisted suicide which is legal – helping someone travel overseas to end their life.

Miss Purdy has progressive multiple sclerosis and has stated her ultimate intention to end her life at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland.

In an interview with the BBC, she acknowledged that the law is “fairly clear”, but said she wants the DPP to specify under what circumstances her husband would face prosecution for facilitating her suicide, and under what circumstances he would not.

More than 100 Britons have so far died at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland, but no one has yet been prosecuted for helping any of them to travel there.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has already indicated that even where sufficient evidence to prosecute exists, such a course of action would only be pursued if deemed to be in the public interest.

The lack of any prosecutions to date has been taken by many as an indication that those involved in such cases are unlikely to ever face prosecution.

Miss Purdy admits that in these cases, no one who has carried out “the same action that my husband would do” has been prosecuted.

This led the BBC interviewer to ask why she was pursuing her case, given that “it seems very unlikely that your husband would face prosecution if he went with you”.

Miss Purdy then admitted that the intention of her court case is to force a ruling that would effectively change the law by exempting assistance to travel overseas from the definition of “aiding and abetting” suicide.

“I think it’s probably unlikely [that my husband would be prosecuted],” she said, “but it’s still not legal.

“As long as it remains illegal for him to accompany me to Switzerland I can’t take that risk.”

Miss Purdy’s appeal has already been rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

Last year the High Court agreed with the DPP that meeting her request would need legislative change which only Parliament could carry out, a decision recently confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

Miss Purdy’s hearing is scheduled for today and tomorrow in Committee Room 1 in the House of Lords.

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