Human Exceptionalism

UK Court Refuses to Impose Assisted Suicide

Debby Purdy, the UK woman struggling with progressive MS, went to court seeking an order assuring her that should she want to die, that her husband could assist her and face no legal consequences. (This case was similar to that of Diane Pretty a few years ago.) The trial court refused. From the story:

Debbie Purdy, 45, had launched a High Court challenge to determine whether her husband would face prosecution if he helped her end her life before her conditioned worsened.

Purdy told reporters she was “disappointed and surprised” that the judges refused to interpret the 1961 Suicide Act, which says assisting someone in a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Purdy, speaking from a wheelchair beside her husband Omar Puente, said she would appeal. She has said she wants the option of assisted suicide if her pain one day becomes unbearable.

Her case asked the judges to tell her at what point her husband would be breaking the law if she committed suicide with his help. “I’m not prepared for Omar to break the law,” she said. “How can we make sure that we act within the law without potential prison sentences if they won’t tell us under what circumstances they would prosecute?”

These cases tug at our hearts, but not in the right way. By applauding her right to “choice,” we abandon her to the worst fears she may have about her future, and indeed, agree that her life will not be worth living, that she will be a burden, etc. Our effort toward Purdy should be just the opposite, to support her in living, to continually reaffirm her value, in suicide prevention so that she hopefully loses the desire to kill herself. Indeed, I find it interesting that these stories never say what, if any, such help she is receiving, or indeed, whether she has refused such assistance. Why the lack of curiosity by journalists?

Besides, the issue is far larger than her individual desires. Purdy’s activism–and the public support she receives–sends an insidious message to other people struggling with difficult diseases and conditions, that their lives are not worth living and not worth protecting. And wider society gets the message too. Moreover, if killing is acceptable for a woman because she has MS, why not include any other serious condition that causes despair, including existential agony? As we have seen in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Kevorkian, etc., that’s precisely what happens. In the words of the late, great Dutch anti-euthanasia activist Dr. K.F. Gunning, once we accept mercy killing as acceptable in one circumstance, we will soon come to accept it in one hundred.

May Purdy receive the loving and compassionate care of her community, may she come to see her life as worth living regardless of her physical circumstances, but for her sake, that of other people with disabilities and serious illnesses, and that of society–may she unequivocally lose her case on appeal.