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UK euthanasia laws tested in the High Court -

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UK euthanasia laws tested in the High Court

The World Today - Monday, 27 October , 2008 12:38:00

Reporter: Emma Alberici

ELEANOR HALL: A landmark decision in the High Court in London will this week clarify the laws on
assisted suicide in the UK.

A British citizen, who has advanced multiple sclerosis, launched the case last month in an effort
to ensure that her husband could take her to Switzerland to help her to die without the fear of
prosecution when he returns to Britain.

As Europe correspondent Emma Alberici reports, it's the second high-profile case to challenge
Britain's position on euthanasia.

EMMA ALBERICI: At 37-years-old Debbie Purdy was confined to a wheelchair.

Seven years later, multiple sclerosis has robbed her of the muscle strength to operate it and so
she's opted for a motorised version in order to maintain some sense of independence.

She doesn't want her husband to have to push her around especially not when she decides that living
has become unbearable.

It's not illegal to kill yourself in the UK but it is illegal to help someone to die.

DEBBIE PURDY: It is not something I would let him face. I mean losing his wife is going to hard
enough. I am not going to let him face interview by police and possible prosecution.

EMMA ALBERICI: Assisted suicide is legal in Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, the American state of
Oregon and Switzerland. Debbie Purdy is planning to make the trip to the Swiss clinic Dignitas
where she'll be administered a lethal dose of barbiturates. If her husband, Omar Puente, helps her
get there he risks a 14-year jail term. Or does he? On this British law is unclear.

In another case this month the parents of 23-year-old rugby player Daniel James who was paralysed
in a training accident accompanied him to Zurich to help him commit suicide. The Director of Public

Prosecutions is deciding whether to press charges.

One hundred other Britons in similar situations have escaped the courts.

MARY WARNOCK: It seems absurd for the law to say it is perfectly OK to help someone die as long as
it isn't here.

EMMA ALBERICI: Baroness Mary Warnock is one of the UK's most powerful moral philosophers; a leading
voice on medical ethics and a member of the House of Lords. In 2006 she helped bring a bill to the
Parliament that would have allowed the families of Debbie Purdy and Daniel James to help their
loved ones die at home instead of paying the $5,000 plus to travel to Switzerland.

The bill was defeated three times after passionate debate by Christian groups.

MARY WARNOCK: These two cases together, Debbie Purdy's case and Daniel James' case will mean that
the law must be re-examined.

As for the very elderly who may ask to be helped to die, who are not terminally ill but who just
feel that they can't face dependence that is growing on them, I believe that they ought to be
allowed to make that decision, whatever their motive and I don't see why one should discount the
motive that they want not to be a burden to their children or indeed a burden to the health

That doesn't seem to be a bad motive to want to die at all, it seems to be a very good one. And
people talk about the aged being coerced into asking for suicide, well, some of them might be but
some of them actually want not to be a burden and that is what they want to do and I have the
greatest sympathy with that myself.

EMMA ALBERICI: Debbie Purdy has demanded to know whether her husband will be prosecuted if he helps
her die. She'll get that answer in a judgment expected to be delivered in the High Court this week.

In London this is Emma Alberici for The World Today.