Debbie Purdy led an enviable life before multiple sclerosis changed it forever. As a music journalist Debbie not only had access to music gigs for free, but the venues wouldn’t allow her to pay for drinks. It was on one such occasion in Singapore that she met her husband-to-be, the renowned Cuban jazz musician Omar Puente, who went on to support Debbie tirelessly as she faced the challenging symptoms of her illness with considerable grit.
On the anniversary of her death, we remember Debbie’s powerful legacy in forcing the government, through her legal case in 2009, to issue guidance on the prosecution criteria for those who assist someone to die. She wanted to be sure Omar would not be prosecuted if he accompanied her to an assisted death in Switzerland.
The then Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, issued the Crown Prosecution Service guidance to apply in deciding whether a prosecution is in the public interest, even if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. There are sixteen factors tending in favour of prosecution and six against. You can see the details here: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/suicide-policy-prosecutors-respect-cases-encouraging-or-assisting-suicide
It is worth remembering the title of Debby’s heart-warming memoir, It’s not because I want to die. In choosing that phrase, she echoed what we know to be true: that those with incurable conditions or who are terminally ill simply want the ability to choose when and where their lives end, if they consider that their suffering has become intolerable. But for their suffering, they would want to live on. Our own late patron Paul Lamb, paralysed in a car accident, expressed a similar view in his campaigning.
Experience since the CPS issued its policy on prosecution, following Debby’s legal case, shows that it is not being applied in a consistent manner. Only this year, My Death, My Decision member Sue Lawford was arrested on her return to the UK, after she accompanied Sharon Johnston, a tetraplegic, to Dignitas.