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Debbie Purdy Judicial Review – Appeal – 3rd & 4th February

Debbie Purdy takes her case to the Appeal Court

“I will continue to fight for clarity in the law for as long as I am able to” says Debbie Purdy as she challenges law on assisted suicide

Debbie Purdy is challenging the judgement reached by the High Court on 29 October, which failed to clarify the law on assisted suicide. The appeal will take place on the 3rd and 4th February 2009, and will be heard by three Judges including the Master of the Rolls – the most senior Judge in the civil division of the Court of Appeal.

Debbie, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, would like the option to travel abroad to have an assisted death should her suffering become unbearable. She wants to clarify the current suicide law, which could leave her husband open to imprisonment for fourteen years if he accompanies her to a country where it is legal to be assisted to die. The High Court gave Debbie permission to appeal the judgement.

Debbie Purdy says:

“What I now know as a result of the Dan James case, is that if Omar sits with me on the plane to Switzerland he is breaking the law, even if I make the arrangements myself. What I, and everybody else, don’t know is the criteria on which the authorities judge whether it is in the public interest to prosecute Omar. I think we are entitled to know this information. As if there is even a small chance that Omar will be prosecuted for coming with me I will have to go alone. This would mean going while I can still travel without assistance, certainly before I am ready to die.

“I have no option but to continue to fight for answers through the courts. It has become apparent through the support I have received during my case that this is no longer just about myself and Omar, but it’s about clarification of the law for all UK citizens who may be facing these decisions now, or want reassurance for the future.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying says:

“Although the Government is aiming to reform the outdated 1961 Suicide Act, it has no plans to update the law to distinguish between people who maliciously encourage suicide and those who compassionately accompany a loved one abroad to die.

“Ultimately we would like to see the law in the UK changed to allow terminally ill, suffering, mentally competent adults the safeguarded choice of an assisted death, so that people like Debbie don’t have to travel abroad for this compassionate assistance. While any change in the law is a matter for Parliament, we hope that the courts will at least clarify our existing law”

Debbie is represented by David Pannick QC and Ms. Saimo Chahal.


For more information, interviews with Debbie Purdy or Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton please contact Jo Cartwright on 0207 479 7737, 07725433025,

Further information:

The Appeal against the decision of the Judicial Review will take place on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th February 2009 at the Royal Courts of Justice, London

The current law:

– Assisting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment in England and Wales
– Section 2 (1) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years
– Section 2 (4) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: No proceedings shall be instituted for an offence under this section except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions
– To date no one who has accompanied a loved one to Dignitas has been prosecuted. However, people have been questioned by the Police and threatened with prosecution.

Debbie Purdy:

– Debbie Purdy is 45 years of age
– She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, with her husband Omar Puente
– Debbie was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) on 21 March 1995, aged 31

Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK for greater patient choice at the end of life.
– Dignity in Dying advocates the option of assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults in unbearable suffering, and has more than 100,000 supporters
– Dignity in Dying supports Debbie Purdy’s case for the DPP to clarify his prosecuting policy around relatives who accompany loved ones overseas to have an assisted death in countries where it is a legal practice, or help them in any way. The least Debbie, and others like her, deserve is to know where they and their families stand within the law
– Dignity in Dying believes that denying Debbie adequate choice over the end of her life is also denying her dignity
– Dignity in Dying strongly believes that we need an assisted dying law in the UK, so that people like Debbie would not have to contemplate having to travel overseas to have an assisted death.
– Dignity in Dying campaigns within the current law for greater choice at the end of life including assisted dying for terminally ill mentally competent adults
– A UK law would mean that Debbie – and others like her – would not be forced to contemplate dying before they are ready. An assisted dying law in the UK would lengthen people’s lives, as they would not have to contemplate committing violent suicides, mercy killings or traveling abroad to die
– Surveys consistently show that more than 80% of the UK population would like to see a change in the law
– Dignity in Dying is not funding Debbie’s case


– There is no connection between Dignitas and Dignity and Dying
– Dignitas opened in 1998 and the clinic has so far helped at least 868 people to end their lives; over 100 of these were from the UK
– Dignitas has upward of 694 members in the UK