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Disabled campaigner challenges assisted suicide ruling

8 December 2009

A wheelchair-bound patient who suffers from spina bifida, hydrocephalus, emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis has challenged the House of Lords' decision in Debbie Purdy's assisted suicide case, claiming that Lord Phillips, one of the law lords ruling in the case, was biased.

The ruling, the last to be given by the law lords before the appellate jurisdiction transferred to the Supreme Court on 1 October, called on the director of public prosecutions to issue offence-specific guidance in respect of assisted suicide.

Alison Davis based her claim on comments made by Lord Phillips in the press two months after the judgment to the effect that he might be in favour of assisted suicide.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in September, Lord Phillips said he had “enormous sympathy with anyone who finds themselves facing a quite hideous termination of their life as a result of one of these horrible diseases, in deciding they would prefer to end their life more swiftly and avoid that death as well as avoiding the pain and distress that might cause their relatives”.

Libby Blaxall, a lawyer at the Christian Legal Centre, who is acting for Davis, presented a petition arguing that Lord Phillips’ comments invalidate the House of Lords’ decision, as did Lord Hoffman’s links to Amnesty International when he gave a judgment in the case regarding the immunity from prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

The petition states that the Purdy ruling is “vitiated by the principle of apparent bias” and “unconstitutional”.

It calls for the Supreme Court to “reconsider and hear fresh argument on the case of Purdy”.

Davis said the DPP’s interim guidance published on 23 September, was “unfair, unjust, and fatally discriminatory against suffering people, who deserve the same presumption in favour of life as any able bodied person would automatically receive”.

The consultation on the interim guidelines runs until 16 December.

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