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Right to Die

DW staff (dc)October 2, 2008

In a case which could affect the European Convention on Human Rights, a woman with multiple sclerosis has launched a bid in London's High Court to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is a hot button issue in many European countriesImage: dpa - Fotoreport

Debbie Purdy, 45, wants assurance that her husband cannot be prosecuted for helping her travel to Switzerland to end her life at some stage in the future.

The law in England and Wales states that assisted suicide is a crime punishable with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Purdy fears that her husband, a Cuban national, would be treated more harshly were he to accompany her.

She said that if her husband is liable for prosecution, she would travel abroad alone while she is healthy enough to do so -- but before she is ready to die.

"I enjoy my life and the people around me, and I don't want to die until my condition becomes unbearable. If the law is not clarified, I may be forced to travel abroad alone before I am ready," she said in a statement.

"I just want clarity so I know whether or not my husband Omar will be prosecuted or questioned by the police if I decide to travel abroad and he accompanies me."

Purdy has said she is considering traveling to a clinic run by the Swiss right-to-die organization, Dignitas. Since 1992, almost 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas clinic without their relatives being prosecuted. Purdy and the organization Dignity in Dying say they want to know if a decision has been made not to prosecute relatives.

In June, two top judges in Britain allowed Purdy to bring a full judicial review in the case, which her lawyer says may fall within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The hearing is set to last for two days, and judgment is likely to be reserved until a later date.

Hot button issue in Germany

Advocates on both sides of the euthanasia debate in Germany will be watching with interest to see how the director of public prosecutions (DPP) responds to Purdy's case, as in recent months, assisted suicide has again become a hot button issue.

Former state senator for justice Roger Kusch presents a video to journalists about the medically assisted suicide of Bettina Schardt in Wuerzburg
Former state senator for justice Roger Kusch presents a video to journalists about the medically assisted suicide of Bettina Schardt in WuerzburgImage: AP

In July, former Hamburg justice senator and right-to-die campaigner Roger Kusch, said he had assisted a 79-year-old woman who committed suicide despite the fact that she had no life-threatening disease or great amount of pain.

His participation in her death was strongly condemned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stressed that her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) opposed any form of assisted suicide.

Bavaria and four other German states are pushing for new laws to ban commercial ventures that help people kill themselves.

Many in Germany want to prevent the country from following in Switzerland's footsteps. Opponents to assisted suicide say that liberal Swiss laws on euthanasia have led to a bustling trade in assisted suicide with the help of organizations like Dignitas.