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UK parents may be charged over assisted suicide

  • Story Highlights
  • Young rugby player, paralyzed after accident, ends his life in Switzerland
  • Police interview man and woman about the death of Daniel James, 23
  • It is illegal in UK and much of Europe to assist with someone's suicide
  • Campaigners argue those with severe conditions should be allowed the right to die
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- UK prosecutors may charge the parents of paralyzed rugby player Daniel James with helping their son end his life.

Daniel James, who played rugby for England under-16s, was paralyzed during match practice last year.

James, center, traveled from the UK to Switzerland to commit suicide. He was 23.

James, 23, from Sinton Green in western England was paralyzed from the chest down in March 2007 when a rugby scrum collapsed on top of him during match practice, dislocating his spine.

Worcestershire Coroner's Service, which is conducing an inquest into the circumstances of his death, states on its Web site that James died on September 12 after he "traveled to Switzerland with a view to ending his own life. He was admitted to a clinic where he died." The inquest was adjourned on September 19 for reports. What do you think about assisted suicide?

UK police said they questioned two people in a criminal investigation of the case. Prosecutors said Thursday they plan to review the police investigation before deciding whether to prosecute anyone.

The case has renewed debate about assisted suicide in the UK, where those found guilty of helping someone kill themselves face up to 14 years in prison.

Switzerland, along with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, are the only European countries where authorities will not prosecute those who assist with suicide.

Many in the UK have voiced support for Mark and Julie James, who flew to the Swiss clinic with their son. Video Watch the debate on assisted suicide »

Mark Roebuck, uncle to Daniel, described the injury on a Web site for the Dan James Trust, which he set up to help his nephew's recovery.

"He dislocated his C6/C7 vertebrae, trapping his spinal cord and becoming a tetraplegic in a split second," Roebuck wrote. "This means that Dan (had) lost the complete use of his body from the chest down."

James, regained some use of his fingers, Roebuck wrote, but that was the extent of his recovery.

Roebuck wrote this month that his nephew had died in an assisted suicide. "His death was an extremely sad loss," his parents said in a statement, "but was no doubt a welcome relief from the prison he felt his body had become."

In a statement last week James' parents paid tribute to their son and said that he had attempted to kill himself several times already.

They added that their son, "an intelligent young man of sound mind," had never come to terms with his condition and was "not prepared to live what he felt was a second-class existence".

Matt Hampson, an English rugby player who was also paralyzed from the neck down with an almost identical spinal injury in 2005, now runs a rugby Web site that supports a charity for children with spinal injuries.

Hampson said he met with James briefly last year to share his experience of living with paralysis. But James' suicide, he says, was a personal choice that only James and his family can fully understand, adding: "Who am I to judge what he did?"

"You either get on with it or you die," added Hampson, who played for the England Under 21 team . "I kind of see my role as getting on with my life to show people that, just because I've had this catastrophic injury, that doesn't mean I can't do things. I don't think my life is worse. It's a lot better in some ways."

Debbie Purdy, a 45-year-old who suffers from multiple sclerosis, says she wants the option of assisted suicide if her pain one day becomes intolerable. Purdy has a case before the High Court to clarify the law.

"I just want clarity so I know whether or not my husband Omar will be prosecuted or questioned by the police if I decide to travel abroad and he accompanies me," Purdy writes on the Web site for Dignity in Dying, a British group that advocates for "patient choice at the end of life."


Dignity in Dying says the law in England and Wales is unclear regarding assisted suicide. Although no one has been prosecuted for accompanying a family member abroad for the procedure, the group says, some relatives have faced police questioning.

"I want to know what the law considers to be assisting a suicide," Purdy writes. "Is Omar open to prosecution if he helps me into a taxi to the airport, or books my flights?"

CNN's Melissa Gray and Atika Shubert contributed to this report

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