Monday, March 29, 2010

Interview with Debbie Purdy.

Scotland on Sunday has a lengthy profile/interview with Debbie Purdy, the British MS sufferer who won a case last summer that allows her husband Omar to travel to Switzerland with her - and not face prosecution - should she choose to end her life. Here's a clip from the article:

It's the irony of Purdy. The multiple sclerosis sufferer is associated with the right to die campaign but displays a vitality that epitomises the best of living. Last year, she successfully challenged the 1961 law on assisted suicide in the House of Lords. The Scottish Parliament is currently considering a bill to legalise assisted suicide but such moves have been resisted in England. Attempting suicide is not illegal, but helping someone to take their own life is. A blind eye has often been turned to those assisting the terminally ill, but Purdy wanted concrete clarification. Her victory resulted in the director of public prosecutions in England and Wales laying out the conditions under which prosecution would and would not be likely to happen. In Scotland the Lord Advocate has declined to do the same.

The new guidelines make Purdy confident that her husband, musician Omar Puente, would not be prosecuted if he helped her travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where patients are helped to die. MS is not terminal, but it is progressively debilitating. Purdy had argued that, without legal clarification, she would have to terminate her life prematurely when she could still travel unaided.

More than 100 people have travelled to Dignitas from Britain without any prosecutions. So was this part of the intellectual argument – and a bit of emotional blackmail – rather than the reality of Purdy's situation? Absolutely not, she insists. There is no guarantee about prosecution. The only person ever charged, though the case was dropped, had a Polish surname. "That was a worry." Puente is not white and middle-class. He's black and Cuban. "In 2008 I joined Dignitas because I was losing the ability to travel by myself, and that was terrifying. If we hadn't won in the House of Lords, I'm not sure I would have got to the European Court, which would have been the next stage, because I probably would have gone to Dignitas. I thought I was losing physical ability more quickly than has actually been the case. And that would have been a terrible mistake."

Purdy has become synonymous with an issue. We know what she stands for but not who she is. Now, she has written a book, It's Not Because I Want to Die. The title sums her up. "I don't think anyone should be in favour of assisted dying. But neither should they be against it. It's not the right choice for everybody, but it should be a choice to explore." It's an important distinction. To understand Purdy's attitude to dying, you first have to grasp her attitude to living.

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