Lords rule on assisted suicide: R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions

On the day when the Law Lords bade farewell to the House of Lords and sit as Justices of the Supreme Court of the United kingdom at the new Supreme Court in October,  they gave judgment on one of the emotive issues of our times in R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009]

The Times reports: “Five Law Lords unanimously backed the woman’s call for a policy statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the circumstances in which a person such as her husband might face prosecution for helping a loved one end their life abroad.”

“The Law Lords agreed that changes were a matter for Parliament, but upheld Ms Purdy’s argument that the DPP, Keir Starmer QC, should put in writing the factors that he regarded as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute. After the verdict, Mr Starmer issued a statement accepting the decision and saying that an interim policy would be produced by the end of September. He added that his final version should be published by spring 2010.”


I spoke earlier in the week to Lord Falconer on his amendment to the law on assisted suicide. We now have a clear statement from the Law Lords that the DPP is under a duty to put in writing the factors he regards as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute and, thereby, clarifying the position for those, Like Ms Purdy who wish to end their lives knowing that their loved ones will not be prosecuted if they assist.

A step in the right direction but by no means a change in the fundamental law – a challenge for a future parliament. The next stage must, inevitably, be pressure on Parliament to change the law to permit assisted dying in this country.

7 thoughts on “Lords rule on assisted suicide: R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions

  1. I am too angry , as an MS Sufferer, to even begin to attempt to conjugate a valid, objective counter proposition to her arguments.
    I will, therefore, keep my opinons to myself.

  2. It is DPP’s problem because of s 2(4) Suicide Act – and it is Parliament’s problem in terms of a change in the law….. the Suicide Act 1961 is very clear and even constructs about crimes out of the jurisdiction (addressed by their Lordships) can’t really help.

    It is a start…. I am in favour of this, obviously. I understand the concerns of those who worry about slippery slopes – but at least this decision gives those who choose to end their lives, because of unbearable pain or suffering, the right to do so without fear of prosecution for their loved ones provided they follow guidelines which the DPP will set out

    The DPP has said that he will have interim guidelines soon and a full statement by Spring 2010.

    Those who choose not to end their lives will, of course, be able to continue with that choice – but I do feel that this is a step forward for those who wish to have the right to determine their own death should it be necessary to do so because of suffering

    Fortunately few, comparatively, will have to make the difficult choices some have to face or face the rigours of a difficult death. Many will have a quick and, possibly, unconscious death.

  3. The saying “going out with a bang” could certainly be applied to this last decision of the House of Lords before they become the Supreme Court of Mega City One (sorry but the whole nonsense about taking the highest court of the land out of the lords strikes me as something out of Judge Dredd, especially when linked with the Ministry of Justice).

    I personally, for reasons I intend to expand upon on my blog, think that this is definitely a step in the right direction. Assisted Suicide was the subject I chose for my law and medicine coursework, and I firmly believe that allowing assisted suicide shows far more respect for an individuals life than forcing them to live out an uncomfortable, demeaning, and painful existence. As long as the choice is voluntary and uninfluenced by mercenary motives, I see this as a triumph for human rights and decency.

  4. This is the sort of law that I try to avoid, but I am making an effort. What I am failing to grasp is the bleeding obvious. The DPP now has to issue guidance. But, whoopie do. So what ? Watched Keir Starmer on the news last night. He might well be the champ of the happy, clappy claim rights crowd but he struck me as a seriously impressive individual who we should all be grateful to have in a public office. The law will remain unchanged, the policy on prosecution will remain unchanged, published or not, and, in my perception, it has worked extremely well to date. I don’t get why people are getting so worked up, and why is that every time the Dignity in Dying lobbyists appear I get a creepy feeling of unease that money is not far away ?

  5. SW/BarorBust/Barboy

    I share the concern that strict controls must be given to ensure that no pressure can be brought on the vulnerable. Lord Falconer was clear on his view in the podcast about this issue.

    Keir Starmer QC will put this out for public consultation and draft guidleines. I suspect they will be very carefully drawn to exclude any possibility of financial benefit/pressure.

    It is important to remember that those who choose to die because of suffering should have the right, as much as those who choose to accept the suffering have the right to accept the suffering.

    It is an emotive and complex issue. I just hope, when the time comes, that I am not faced with these issues.

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