LONDON – A disabled woman won her legal battle Thursday to force British authorities to say whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her commit suicide.
The House of Lords, Britain's highest court, ordered the government to draw up rules for when it will — and won't — prosecute assisted suicide, which is illegal in the U.K.
Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, said the ruling "gives me my life back." The judgment is a defeat for those who argue that Britain's law on assisted, already rarely enforced, risks being further weakened.
Purdy, 46, had argued that if her husband, Cuban violinist Omar Puente, faced prosecution for helping her go abroad to commit suicide, she would go alone to spare him the legal trouble. She says knowing he is free from the threat of jail means she can live out her life a little longer because Puente could help her commit suicide even if she were too impaired to take the trip on her own.
"This decision means that I can make an informed choice, with Omar, about whether he travels abroad with me to end my life because we will know exactly where we stand," she said.
Britain's Director of Public Prosecutors Keir Starmer said he accepted the judgment and would put out an interim policy on assisted suicide by the end of September.
Although the judgment does not guarantee Puente or anyone else immunity if they help someone end another person's life, opponents of the practice say the ruling effectively invites authorities to say there are some instances in which they will not prosecute those who help others kill themselves.
While dozens of people from Britain have reportedly traveled to Switzerland to end their lives, no one has been prosecuted for helping them travel there.
In one recent high-profile case, the parents of a 23-year-old partially paralyzed rugby player was spared prosecution — even though Starmer said there was enough evidence to charge them with taking their son abroad to help him kill himself.
Aiding or abetting suicide carries a maximum jail term of 14 years but the law is rarely enforced. Prosecutors have previously said that they will file charges only when it is in the public interest without going into details.