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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Right-to-die woman to fight on
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty arriving at court
A terminally-ill woman has pledged to continue her court action to win the right to be helped to commit suicide.

Three High Court judges decided that motor neurone disease sufferer Diane Pretty's husband Brian could not assist her suicide without potentially facing criminal action and a 14-year prison term.

However, she will now take the case directly to the House of Lords.

Motor neurone disease is an incurable and progressive illness which is gradually taking away Mrs Pretty's ability to move and communicate with others.

She wants to commit suicide, but would need assistance to do so.

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.

Diane and Brian Pretty
Diane and Brian Pretty
In the first case of its kind, Mrs Pretty challenged a refusal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, to rule out taking action against her husband if he helps her commit suicide.

However, on Thursday morning, the panel of three High Court judges, while saying they felt "desperately sorry" for the couple, ruled that no-one had the human right to "procure their own death".

Had the Director of Public Prosecutions agreed not to prosecute her husband, it would be a "licence to commit crime", they said.


The right to human dignity enshrined in the new Act was not the right to die with dignity, they ruled - simply the right to enjoy as dignified a life as possible.

Lord Justice Tuckey, one of the three, said: "Even if we had good reason to think that the blanket ban on assisting suicide were no longer thought necessary in the democratic society of England and Wales, we would have no reason to think that to allow assisted suicide in such circumstances would be generally acceptable."

Diane has said she wants to carry on. She's a very tough lady and always knows exactly what she wants

Deborah Annetts, Voluntary Euthanasia Society

Outside the court after the ruling, Mrs Pretty said that she was "angry and disappointed".

Fighting on

Deborah Annetts from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society told the BBC that there were good grounds for carrying on the fight.

"Diane has said she wants to carry on. She's a very tough lady and always knows exactly what she wants.

I think it is a victory for common sense

Dr Michael Howitt-Wilson, Alert
"She wants to die with dignity, when and how she wants."

A spokesman for Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: "We are very disappointed but we will look forward to taking the case to the House of Lords."

Mona Arshi, Diane Pretty's solicitor, told the BBC: "We will be arguing that this court just didn't get the law right."

However, the ruling was immediately welcomed by some campaigners.

Dr Greg Gardner, deputy chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance said: "What we were looking at was not the autonomy of one person to have assisted suicide, but the freedom of the majority to be protected from value judgements about the quality of life."

Dr Michael Howitt-Wilson, deputy chairman of pressure group Alert, said: "I think it is a victory for common sense."

The judges said that their decision was "inescapable", and refused her leave to make an appeal.

However, she can take the case directly to the Law Lords.

Disease advanced

During the two day hearing last week Philip Havers QC, representing Ms Pretty, told the three judges that her disease was at an advanced stage.

She very strongly wishes to control when and where she dies

Philip Havers QC, for Diane Pretty
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."

After the case, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was sympathetic to Mrs Pretty's circumstances, but welcomed the ruling.

"The Director of Public Prosecutions cannot licence people to commit crimes," a spokesman said.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"It has been an immensely complex case"
Mona Arshi of Liberty, Diane Pretty's solicitor
"We are going to be going to the House of Lords"
Teresa Tate, Marie Curie Cancer Care
"We are pleased with this legal finding"
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