What case did Debbie Purdy win on Thursday? I am sure that most people believe that, as Channel 4 News put it, she won “a landmark ruling allowing her husband to travel with her to Switzerland where the MS sufferer plans to end her life”. That is how most of the media, who seem to favour the “right-to-death” campaigners, have presented it.
But it is not so. The Law Lords’ ruling did not allow Miss Purdy’s husband to do anything. It merely called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to produce a “custom-built” policy (whatever that is) about when he would prosecute people for assisting suicide.
It is interesting that the Purdy case has employed the law of “privacy”. We have been here before. In the Roe vs Wade case in the United States in 1973, the Supreme Court decided that abortion, previously a matter for states, was permitted by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment does not talk about privacy, let alone abortion, but it upholds “due process” when the authorities try to take any liberty away from a person. The Supreme Court found the right to “privacy” hidden in that amendment, and the right to abortion hidden within privacy. It was a stretch of the meaning of words.
Now “privacy” is the favourite again. Because the European Convention on Human Rights is now entrenched in our law, we are subject to Article 8, which says that “everyone has the right to respect for his private… life”. It is, indeed, vitally important that private life is respected, but when they found on the other side of the argument in the Diane Pretty case in 2002, the Law Lords said that Article 8 “related to the manner in which a person conducted her life, not the manner in which she departed from it”. Now they have decided the opposite – that assisted suicide is “part of the act of living” and therefore related to privacy. Again, judges have stretched the meaning of words. When you strip away their legal language, you see that they are merely expressing their own opinions.
In 1973, in America, the judges were pro-abortion, and decided to make the law fit their view. In 2009, in Britain, they are pro-euthanasia, and euthanasia has been blocked by previous court judgments and by Parliament. So the judges decide that rights which concern life are actually rights to promote death. It is a morally arguable point of view, but it does not have much to do with upholding justice. As was always predicted by opponents of European “human rights” legislation, the courts have become a tool for reflecting the elite views of the age, rather than carefully interpreting the laws made by elected legislators.
Read more of columnist Charles Moore’s commentary in The Telegraph.