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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Right-to-die verdict next week
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty arrives at court
A High Court ruling on a right-to-die plea from a terminally-ill woman is expected next week.

Diane Pretty, 42, from Luton, has motor neurone disease, an incurable and progressive illness which will gradually take away her ability to move and communicate with others.

She claims her quality of life has become so low that denying her the opportunity to commit suicide is a breach of her human rights.

During a two-day hearing, she challenged a refusal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, to rule out taking action against her husband of 25 years, Brian, if he helps her commit suicide.

She very strongly wishes to control when and where she dies

Philip Havers QC, for Diane Pretty
Philip Havers QC, representing Ms Pretty, told the three judges on Wednesday that her disease was at an advanced stage.

He told the court: "She is frightened and distressed at the suffering and indignity which she will have to endure before she dies if the disease is allowed to run its course.

"She very strongly wishes to control when and where she dies."

He added: "The terrible irony of this case is that her condition prevents her from doing so unaided."

The case has concerned the pro-life lobby - which say that success for Ms Pretty at the High Court would undermine the fundamental rights to life enshrined in law.

Under law, it is not illegal to commit suicide, but against the law to assist someone in doing so.

Mr Havers argued that by denying her the opportunity to commit suicide which is available to other citizens, the government was subjecting her to inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Now paralysed

The progress of her disease means she is paralysed in both legs, and she communicated to the court in August using a machine on her wheelchair which printed out text messages.

It is inevitable that the motor neurone disease will be fatal, usually from respiratory failure brought on by wasting of muscles.


Mrs Pretty is supported by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and civil rights group Liberty.

Liberty had asked the DPP to guarantee her husband would not be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a suicide under Section 2 of the Suicide Act if he tried to help her.

But although DPP David Calvert-Smith conceded that Mrs Pretty and her family were having to endure "terrible suffering", he said he could not offer such a guarantee.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Diane's case centres on her human rights, to be spared... an undignified death"
See also:

20 Aug 01 | Health
Woman fights for right to die
20 Aug 01 | J-M
Motor neurone disease
28 Nov 00 | Euthanasia
Euthanasia and the law
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