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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 14:55 GMT
Right-to-die case fast-tracked
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty wants the right to die
The European Court of Human Rights is to fast-track the case of terminally ill woman Diane Pretty, who is seeking legal permission to be allowed to end her life.

The Strasbourg court announced on Wednesday that the case was to be given priority. It could now be heard within months.


The House of Lords decision left me feeling I had no rights

Dianne Pretty
Mrs Pretty, 43, who has motor neurone disease, wants an assurance that her husband Brain will not be prosecuted if he helps her to take her own life.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to give such a guarantee.

Mrs Pretty decided to take her case to the European Court after she unsuccessfully appealed to the House of Lords in November.

Protection

The five Law Lords who heard the case said that human rights legislation was in place to protect lives, not end them.

Mrs Pretty said: "I'm delighted the European Court of Human Rights has fast-tracked my case so it can be reheard.

"The House of Lords decision left me feeling I had no rights."

Deborah Annetts
Deborah Annetts welcomed the decision
Deborah Annetts, director of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which is supporting Mrs Pretty in her fight, said: "We are delighted at this news. It is an indication that the European Court recognises how important and serious the case is.

"We understand that it could be before the court within a matter of months."

Lawyers for Mrs Pretty, a mother of two from Luton, have argued that the Human Rights Act gives her the right to choose when to die.

They said that for the government to deny her the chance to take her own life in the face of such suffering was "inhuman and degrading".

Paralysed

Mrs Pretty, who is paralysed from the neck down, has to be fed through a tube, and uses a computer attached to her wheelchair to communicate.

She has insisted she will abide by the Law Lords' decision and is not tempted to ask her husband to ignore the consequences and help her die.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners believe right-to-die legislation would endanger vulnerable people who are unable to protect themselves, and may choose suicide because they feel they are a burden to carers.

Dr Michael Howitt-Wilson, deputy chairman of anti-euthanasia group Alert, said: "The European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up when the world still remembered the Nazi euthanasia programme with its total devaluation of people with disabilities.

"Article 2, which lays down that everyone has the right to life, must rule out the killing of sick people even with their consent.

"We profoundly hope the European Court will say this, as the Law Lords did.

Dr Howitt-Wilson said he fully accepted that Mrs Pretty was not being pressurised into ending her own life.

But he said: "The law is the law for everyone.

"If it were changed, the message would go out to everyone who needs care that their lives were no longer valuable to society."

Mrs Pretty's condition has worsened significantly since legal hearings began last summer.

Anyone convicted of helping someone take his or her own life faces a jail term of up to 14 years.

See also:

29 Nov 01 | Health
Right-to-die case dismissed
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