Thu, Dec 02, 2004 - Page 6 News List

British court refuses to halt woman's suicide trip


A judge lifted an injunction on Tuesday barring a man from taking his ill wife to Switzerland to be helped to die, but said police could still decide to take action against the husband.

High Court Judge Mark Hedley said it would not be appropriate for him to interfere with the unidentified woman's decision to die at a Zurich clinic.

While suicide is legal in the UK, helping someone else to kill him or herself is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Swiss laws allow trained counselors to help with assisted suicide, although they are not allowed to administer the lethal drugs.

The sick woman, identified in court as Mrs Z, has expressed the wish to commit suicide. The authority informed the police of Mr Z's plans to help her travel but went to court to ask Hedley whether it was required to seek an injunction to stop the trip.

Last week, the judge issued a temporary injunction to prevent the trip while he determined whether Mrs Z, who has cerebellar ataxia, a degenerative brain disease, was competent to make her own decision.

He said on Tuesday that she was and told the unidentified local authority it was not obliged to take further action. The authority then said it would not seek a further injunction.

The judge's decision focused not on Mrs Z's right to end her life but on whether her husband could be punished for helping her travel to a place where she planned to do so.

Mark Everall, a lawyer for the local authority, had told the judge it was not clear whether helping someone travel to another country to be helped to die constituted assisted suicide under English law.

Mr Z's lawyer, Malcolm Sharpe, had asked the judge to lift last week's temporary injunction.

Sharpe had argued that while his client understood the authority's decision to come to court, the agency had no obligations to Mrs Z once she told them of her decision to commit suicide.

"Can the local authority force the situation to the extent that would directly conflict with this statement? And I submit that the answer is `no' to that question," the lawyer said.

"He [Mr Z] knows that, if the injunction is lifted and he travels to Switzerland, he may well be interviewed by the police," Sharpe said.

The judge told him police could also arrest Mr Z before the planned trip.

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