David Blackburn

The House of Lords’ judgement in the Purdy case could lead to a change in the law on assisted suicide.

The House of Lords' judgement in the Purdy case could lead to a change in the law on assisted suicide.
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Debbie Purdy has won her appeal to have the law on assisted suicide clarified. The House of Lords judged that the Director of Public Prosceutions (DPP) must detail an "offence-specific policy" defining the facts and circumstances under which a prosecution would be made in cases like Debbie Purdy's. She also won on the point that article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives her the right to choose how she dies.   

Though no prosecutions have been made, the current law says that those assisting could face up to 14 years in prison. Purdy wants an assurance that her husband would not prosecuted if he assists in her suicide in Switzerland. The geographical point is irrelevant: there is a law against aiding and abetting suicide in Britain and British citizens are bound by that law regardless of where the offence is committed.

So will this have any effect? The DPP has said consistently that it does not want its hands tied and that cases should be dealt with on an individual basis. However, the judgement forces the DPP to prescribe the circumstances under which a prosecution will be made, in theory. Those prescriptions will lead to a change in the law on assisted suicide.