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Debbie Purdy loses appeal, but wins argument – Dignity in Dying statement –

Media statement

19th February 2009 10am

Debbie Purdy loses her appeal but wins her argument

Daniel James case highlights “the kind of broad circumstances in which …the ultimate decision would be that a prosecution should not be mounted”

Debbie Purdy was notified this morning that her case to the appeal court, seeking to clarify the law on assisted suicide, was dismissed. While the judgement reiterates that assisted suicide is a crime and that decisions to prosecute would be fact-specific, it does imply that if Debbie’s husband, Omar, were to accompany her abroad for an assisted death he would not be prosecuted.

Debbie Purdy says:

“I feel that I have won my argument, despite having lost the appeal. I am very grateful for, and respect the ruling of the Appeal Court. They have done everything they can do to clarify that , given the Dan James judgement, Omar would be unlikely to be prosecuted if he were to accompany me abroad for an assisted death, and we are therefore one step closer to the clarification I need.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying says

“Dignity in Dying is pleased that the courts have gone some way to clarifying the law for Debbie, although this is not the full resolution she was hoping for. The Court have made it quite clear that it is unlikely that Omar would be prosecuted if he were to accompany Debbie abroad for an assisted death. (para 19, endnotes)

“To underline this point, the Judgement goes on to make clear that if someone like Omar were prosecuted, the courts are likely to dismiss the case or discharge them without a sentence.” (para 80, endnotes)

“The courts have done all they can. They make quite clear that only Parliament has the authority to change the law. If there’s no public interest in prosecuting, there must be a public interest in updating the law to remove doubt.”

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

The judgement will be available at:



Debbie, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, fought through snow and ice to be present at her appeal hearing on 3rd February, where she challenged the decision that the High Court made not to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Debbie 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 Judgement:

The Judgement states that “Although it is, like all such decisions, fact-specific, we believe that it (the decision not to prosecute in the Dan James case) is illustrative not only of the care with which the issue in these cases would be approached, but also an extremely helpful example of the kind of broad circumstances in which, notwithstanding that the evidential test has been passed, the ultimate decision would be that a prosecution should not be mounted” (para 19)

If the prosecution amounts to an abuse of process, the court will dismiss it. However even if a defendant were to be convicted, but the circumstances were such that in the judgement of the court, no penal sanction would be appropriate, the court, exercising its own sentencing responsibilities would order that the offender should be discharged, and might well question publically the decision to prosecute.” (para 80)

Note to Editors:

Dignity in Dying will issue a further statement once the judgement has been fully scrutinised.

Both Debbie Purdy and Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying will be available for interview from 12 noon. Debbie is based in Bradford, Sarah Wootton is available for interview in London.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Jo Cartwright, Campaigns and Press Officer on 020 7479 7739/

Further information:

The Appeal against the decision of the Judicial Review took place on Tuesday 3rd 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 to introduce medically assisted dying for terminally ill 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 725 members in the UK