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In a sense it all began here, in a bar in Singapore in 1995, when a young Englishwoman met a Cuban jazz musician, and despite her not being able to speak a word of Spanish and him not being able to utter a word of English, they fell in love. Debbie Purdy had already begun to experience early symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis when she met Omar Puente, but in the first flush of their relationship any thought of death and disease must have been the furthest thing from their minds. One would hope that they look back on their time in Singapore as a brief stop in paradise, given how much they have endured together since. They travelled through Asia for the next three years as Ms Purdy’s health steadily deteriorated, gradually leaving her more dependent on her companion. When it was time for her to return to England, he followed. In the teeth of the odds, they have been together for the past 18 years, during which time she has become the most prominent face of the assisted-dying debate in the UK, and the subject of what is perhaps the most important decision of the House of Lords bearing on the extent of the individual’s right to control the circumstances of her death. Theirs is both a legal saga and a love story, and it serves to remind us that – whatever our political, religious or moral leanings – the assisted dying debate remains an irreducibly human issue. It follows that we must summon all the compassion and kindness in our hearts when broaching this matter.
Singapore Med J 2013; 54(3): 116-128; doi:10.11622/smedj.2013043