However, the case brought by Debbie Purdy was different. Purdy, who had multiple sclerosis, sought clarification through the courts on what would happen to her husband if he were to help her to travel to Switzerland where she could access assisted suicide. Under UK law, such an act could be punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Purdy was partially successful – and in 2010 the then director of public prosecutions, Kier Starmer, issued guidelines which set out factors that should be considered regarding whether someone should be prosecuted for helping another to take their own life – such as their motivations, and whether the police were informed.
“It turns out that you are extremely unlikely to be prosecuted for, for example, taking your love one to Switzerland so they can have an assisted death,” says Penney Lewis. But she says that is no guarantee, and there could still be an investigation. “There are plenty of stories of people describing unpleasant experiences with the police, many of which last months,” she adds.
Richard Huxtable agrees. “[The CPS guidance] is not giving a blueprint for how you might lawfully perform assistance in suicide,” he says.