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October 30, 2008
British woman loses assisted suicide case


Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain and in most parts of the U.S.

Debbie Purdy, a British woman with multiple sclerosis, lost her case demanding clarity on assisted suicide law from England’s High Court.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain, but the legality of helping take someone abroad for assisted suicide is unclear.

Purdy has considered having her husband take her to to die at a clinic in Switzerland — where assisted suicide is legal — once she is no longer able to take herself. However, she fears that her husband could be prosecuted upon his return to Britain.

The Director of Public Prosecutions refused to address the situation before the assisted suicide actually takes place. Now, the High Court has defended his refusal, claiming that such determination would require a change in the law.

Purdy’s legal argument is that the lack of clarity violates her human rights because she will have to end her life earlier, on her own, instead of risking the prosecution of her husband.

Zan de Man of the “Politics & Current Affairs” forum writes that “it’s a powerful irony that the law against procuring, counseling, or assisting suicide may shorten her life.”

Posting about the recent case of rugby player Daniel James, Abhishek of the “Muse Free” blog “believes that suicide is one of the most fundamental rights of a human being,” but that “those who believe in imposing their value judgments on others” will seek convictions for their own relief.

Wesley J. Smith of the “Secondhand Smoke” blog thinks the activism, media attention and controversy surrounding Purdy’s case misses am important point — that Purdy’s desire to end her life sends an insidious message that the lives of those suffering from difficult conditions are not worth living.

In considering the situation, JD at “My Beloved Monster and Me” reminds readers that, despite the repeated media use of the phrase “terminal illness,” MS is a disease that people die with, not of.

The European Court of Human Rights considers assisted suicide to be a violation of its human rights conventions, and bills to legalize assisted suicide in Britain have been continually rejected.

In the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in Oregon under certain conditions under the Death with Dignity Act. The state of Washington plans to vote on an assisted suicide initiative next Tuesday.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Scoobyfoo under a Creative Commons license.

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