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Death of assisted dying campaigner Debbie Purdy

The death has been announced of Debbie Purdy, who won a landmark case in 2009 to clarify the law on assisted dying. Ms Purdy suffered from primary progressive multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years and died at the Marie Curie hospice a week ago, after deciding to starve herself. Ms Purdy’s case, which was finally decided in the House of Lords, represented great progress in reforming law and policy on assisted dying. She had sought clarification in the law as to whether her husband would be prosecuted if he accompanied her abroad to a clinic for assisted dying. The Law Lords ruled that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for private and family life, did extend to the manner and quality of Debbie’s death.

In February 2010, the case resulted in the then Director of Public Prosecutions publishing guidance setting out what should be taken into consideration when weighing up a prosecution. It said that a range of factors should be taken into account, including the individual’s ability to reach a clear and informed decision about their death and the motivations of the person assisting them.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented, ‘It is through the courage of inspirational individuals like Debbie Purdy that the law on assisted dying has advanced in this country. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. It is Parliament – the people’s representatives – who should be giving effect to the will of the overwhelming majority of Britons who believe that those with incurable suffering and a settled and uncoerced desires to end their lives should have assistance to do so. Those of us who campaign for the legalisation of assisted dying will have our determination renewed and strengthened today.’

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