Thursday, June 12, 2008

MS sufferers

My eldest son has MS. Some days he suffers, other days, he feels okay. So far, it's not the serious kind that is totally debilitating--but added to Epilepsy, it's downright awful. I worry and this article interested me.

Will my husband face jail for helping me die? MS sufferer wins latest fight for answer

A MULTIPLE sclerosis sufferer yesterday welcomed the High Court's decision to allow her to seek clarification of the law on assisted suicide.

Two judges ruled that the "nature and sensitivity" of Debbie Purdy's human rights case justified letting her seek a judicial review.

Ms Purdy, 45, of Bradford, West Yorkshire, said she was "really pleased" with the decision – and added that a successful legal challenge could help to prolong her life. The case will be heard in October.

She is accusing the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Sir Ken Macdonald, of unlawfully failing to publish details of his policy on whether, and in what circumstances, people might be prosecuted if they help loved ones to die.

Under the Suicide Act 1961, aiding or abetting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. No-one has been prosecuted so far, but Ms Purdy's lawyers argue that the law is in urgent need of clarification. If there was no policy, there should be one, they argue.

Ms Purdy, who lived an adventurous life including trekking through jungles and jumping out of planes before illness set in, says she plans "to live forever".

But if her condition becomes unbearably painful, she plans to choose her moment to die and is a member of Dignitas, the Swiss organisation that operates clinics where people can go to end their lives.

She wants to know whether her husband, Omar Puente, who was with her in court yesterday, would be prosecuted if he helped her travel to a clinic in Zurich to take her own life.

Jeremy Johnson, appearing for the DPP, submitted that her case was unarguable as there was no specific policy on assisted suicide, and there was no legal obligation on the DPP to publish one. He also argued that her bid to have the law clarified under Article 8 (right to respect for personal and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights was blocked by legal precedent.

However, Lord Justice Latham, sitting with Mr Justice Nelson at London's High Court, ruled that "without wishing to give Ms Purdy any optimism that her arguments will ultimately succeed", she did have an arguable case which should go to a full hearing. She said in a statement after yesterday's hearing: "If the DPP does clarify that my husband will not be prosecuted for accompanying me to Dignitas, I will be able to wait until I'm ready to go.

"I want to wait until the last possible moment – if I can no longer bear being alive – but I cannot do that while there is a chance my husband will be prosecuted. If the DPP does not give me this assurance, then I would need to go to Dignitas a long time before I want to die, but at least I would know where I stand."

Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the decision was an important step forward. "We hope that common sense prevails and the judicial review will clarify the law, so that people considering travelling to Dignitas will know where they stand."

She added: "Of course, the decision to travel to Dignitas is far from ideal. People who are terminally ill and mentally competent should have the option of requesting a medically assisted death in the comfort of their own country, surrounded by the people they love."


EUTHANASIA has been "decriminalised" in a number of European countries, namely the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Additionally, the American state of Oregon has a "death with dignity act" and Australia has the Northern Territories ruling.

"Physician-assisted suicide" is now practised with increasing openness in the Netherlands.

Swiss law clearly decriminalises assisted suicide without the involvement of a doctor. This means that non-physicians can participate in assisted suicide.

As the law stands in England, Wales and Scotland, deliberate or "active" euthanasia will normally leave anyone assisting suicide or death liable for murder. Under English law, a difference is made between acting and refraining to act – an act of omission.

Active euthanasia occurs when treatment is administered with the intention of ending the patient's life.

The full article contains 705 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.

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