Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy [R] with her husband Omar Puente outside the House of Lords
Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy [R] with her husband Omar Puente outside the House of LordsReuters

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy who won a legal bid to get the law on assisted suicide clarified, has passed away after refusing to eat.

The 51-year-old had campaigned for greater clarity for relatives who wanted to help a loved one die. Purdy died on 23 December in the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford, where she had been staying for a year.

Her husband Omar Puente thanked hospice staff on Monday, saying their care "allowed her last year to be as peaceful and dignified as she wished".

He paid tribute to Purdy as "a much loved wife, sister, aunt and friend". She had lived with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) for almost 20 years.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said: "Debbie wanted choice and control over her death should she consider her suffering unbearable.

"Ultimately she was seeking peace of mind that her wishes would be respected, but also crucially that her decisions would not result in the potential imprisonment of her husband.

"She rejected the option of travelling abroad to die, and instead, wanting to die in this country, chose to hasten her death by stopping eating.

"For over a decade Debbie was a huge presence at Dignity in Dying; from stuffing envelopes to leading her legal challenge, she was an integral part of the campaign and a friend. We will miss her greatly."

Purdy told an inquiry on assisted dying that if she had not won the backing of the Law Lords she would have gone to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to put an end her own life as her illness was getting progressively worse.

The Bradford campaigner won a landmark ruling in the House of Lords in 2009 which resulted in a government document with guidelines on assisted suicide.

Purdy had questioned what would happen to her husband Omar Puente if he assisted her to travel abroad to end her life.

The Law Lords said that any changed to the law were a matter for Parliament but upheld her argument but upheld her argument that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should put in writing the factors he regarded as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute.

Factors against prosecution included that the person wanting to die had a "clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide" and that the victim "indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide".

Lord Pannick, Debbie Purdy's barrister, said: "Her body was already afflicted terribly by this awful disease, she was in a wheelchair, she was in great pain for much of the time.

"But I don't think I have represented a more energetic client in my professional career."

In her final interview with BBC Look North, Purdy said the painful realities of her condition meant her life was "unacceptable".

She said: "It's painful and it's uncomfortable and it's frightening and it's not how I want to live.

"If somebody could find a cure for MS I would be the first person in line.

"It's not a matter of wanting to end my life, it's a matter of not wanting my life to be this."