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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 18:38 GMT
My journey with Diane
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By BBC Health Correspondent Karen Allen
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Diane Pretty is a remarkable woman.

Her life is gradually being eroded by motor neurone disease yet she's chosen to spend her last few months, waging a battle through the courts to be allowed to seek help to die.

She's already taken on the might of the legal establishment in England and been turned down three times.

Now after 43 years in which she's never ventured off British soil, she's made the trip to Strasbourg to the European Court of Human Rights.

Early last Sunday morning Kit; Clive and Wendy - the medical support team from a specially commissioned private ambulance firm - arrived at the Pretty's front door, clearly a little nervous about the 12 hour journey that lay ahead.

They'd read all the cuttings; seen the news reports and knew that this would be a totally different mission to the medical insurance work that they usually get.

But the tension was defused within minutes.

Anthem from Diane

As if to remind them that although she wants to die, she is still very much alive, Diane sought to amuse them. With the touch of a small pressure pad on her computer, now her only means of communication, a tinny version of "La Marseillaise", the French national anthem, played out.

Diane gave a cheeky grin and everyone laughed. "That's the kind of women my Diane is" her husband Brian explained.

For a brief moment one gleans some understanding of this courageous woman's past. A woman who has lived life to the full but now wants to stop.

As she's made clear time and time again - she's not going through a bout of depression as a consequence of her disease - she just wants to die but is physically incapable of carrying out the act herself.

She'd like her devoted husband Brian to be allowed to help her - but without legal repercussions.

The frustration that she constantly faces is that were able to take her own life, this would not be crime and were she to live in Belgium or The Netherlands there would be no need for a legal challenge.

Holiday pleasures

A day before the hearing Diane and her husband Brian spent their first moments together abroad, just doing things that people on holiday do: Buying sunglasses; marvelling at the sights and (for Brian at least) sipping coffee in the sun.

But their every movement is tracked by the medical team - just in case something goes wrong - and the strain on this very human couple has begun to show.

In a quiet moment Brian told me that he's heard of people living with motor neurone disease for periods of around 16 years.

"I can't do that, " he said, "and neither can Diane.I can see it in her eyes she's had enough".

For this devoted couple - the issue of ending Diane's life is very much a personal one but they've exposed their agonising plight to public scrutiny because they want their potential actions sanctioned by the law.

So far the English courts have refused to do this arguing that a right to life does not confer on an individual a right to die - and many commentators believe that the European court will do the same.

Lottery to law

Nothing from her earlier life before motor neurone disease set in could have prepared Diane Pretty for the position she now occupies in the public's mind.

Hers is a story that's become so much more than one woman's fight to die, but a moral crusade about choice and dignity.

This woman who once sold lottery tickets on Bedfordshire estates; looked at ease as she entered the wooden-panelled formality of the European court chamber to face seven judges who will ultimately decide her fate.

Although the hearing lasted less than an hour it symbolised the end of the road but she left with the same determination that has spurred her for the past nine months and the simple message.

"I want my rights"

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


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