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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 13:17 GMT
Court hears right-to-die plea
pretty in wheelchair
Diane Pretty cannot move her limbs
A terminally-ill woman has no right to be helped to die, the European Court of Human Rights has been told.

Diane Pretty from Luton, Bedfordshire, suffers from motor neurone disease, which is gradually robbing her of the ability to move and speak.

The 43-year-old mother of two wants her husband Brian to help her commit suicide - but the UK director of public prosecutions says he will not grant him immunity to prosecution in those circumstances.

If he helps, he faces prosecution and, if convicted, the possibility of up to 14 years in prison.

Mrs Pretty's plea to Europe comes after three attempts to get that decision overturned in the UK courts - the High Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords have all rejected her arguments.


Domestic law simply does not allow one person to intervene deliberately to bring about another person's death

Jonathan Crow QC
On Tuesday, Jonathan Crow, representing the government, said he was sorry about the "tragic circumstances" of Mrs Pretty's case.

However, he said: "In the United Kingdom a simple and clear cut distinction has been drawn.

"Domestic law simply does not allow one person to intervene deliberately to bring about another person's death."

Mr Crow told the court that assisted suicide was also an offence in many other countries which had also signed up to the Human Rights Convention - including Austria, Poland, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

'Courageous'

And he dismissed the suggestion that the "right to life" automatically conferred on individuals a "right to die.", adding that palliative care could allow "death with dignity".


If the disease is to allow to run its course she will endure suffering and indignity which can be avoided

Philip Havers QC, for Mrs Pretty
He said that the Human Rights Convention protected "the manner in which a person is entitled to conduct their life - not the manner in which they wish to depart from it."

Philip Havers QC, representing Mrs Pretty, said the case concerned a "courageous and determined and dying woman".

Mr Havers said Mrs Pretty was facing a humiliating and degrading death which would be "distressing and undignified".

He said: "She wishes to avoid such a death. In English law she would be free to do so if she were physically capable of taking her own life, unassisted.

"But this she cannot do because she is so disabled. In order to avoid the suffering the indignity and the humiliation which otherwise, she needs some assistance.

'Intellect unimpaired'

"It is her case that under the Convention she is entitled to that assistance.

Diane Pretty leaving court
The Prettys leaving court
"Her intellect and capacity to make decisions are unimpaired by her disease.

"She is neither vulnerable nor in need of protection. Her death is imminent and cannot be avoided.

"If the disease is to allow to run its course she will endure suffering and indignity which can be avoided."

The hearing ended before midday, and a decision is not expected for at least a fortnight - there is no right of appeal.

Assisted suicide

The case was fast-tracked owing to the steady deterioration of Mrs Pretty's condition in recent months.


Our very first trip abroad is to come here to ask for Diane's right to die

Brian Pretty
She is now paralysed from the neck down.

In order to appear in court on Tuesday, she has had to make a gruelling 12-hour journey in a private ambulance accompanied by paramedics and an intensive care nurse.

After the hearing Diane and Brian Pretty spoke of their hopes of victory.

Speaking through a voice synthesiser on her wheelchair Mrs Pretty said: "I just want my rights."

Mr Pretty said that the trip - the couple's first outside the UK - had been "poignant".

"Our very first trip abroad is to come here to ask for Diane's right to die," he said.

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The BBC's Karen Allen in Strasbourg
"There were no answers for Diane Pretty on Tuesday morning"
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