BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 29 April, 2002, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
European right to die judgement
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty wants her husband to help her die
Diane Pretty's unsuccessful application to the European Court of Human Rights claimed that the UK government were violating five key rights.

The judgement, delivered on Monday, rejected all of these arguments.

Article 2 (right to life) - no violation.

Diane Pretty claimed that the existence of a right to life could also confer a right to die - which she was therefore being denied.

The court ruled: "In its case-law in this area the Court had placed consistent emphasis on the obligation of the State to protect life.

"In these circumstances it was not persuaded that 'the right to life' guaranteed in Article 2 could be interpreted as involving a negative aspect.

"Article 2 could not, without a distortion of language, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die; nor could it create a right to self-determination in the sense of conferring on an individual the entitlement to choose death rather than life."

Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) - no violation

Mrs Pretty said that denying her the right to assisted suicide was, by prolonging her life, making her endure such "inhuman or degrading treatment".

The judges ruled: "The Court could not but be sympathetic to the applicant's apprehension that without the possibility of ending her life she faced the prospect of a distressing death.

"Nonetheless, the positive obligation on the part of the State which had been invoked would require that the State sanction actions intended to terminate life, an obligation that could not be derived from Article 3."

Article 8 (right to respect for private life) - no violation

Mrs Pretty claimed that this article clearly gave her a right to self-determination, in particular the ability to choose how to end it.

The ruling stated: "The law in issue in this case, section 2 of the Suicide Act, was designed to safeguard life by protecting the weak and vulnerable and especially those who were not in a condition to take informed decisions against acts intended to end life or to assist in ending life.

"The Court did not consider that the blanket nature of the ban on assisted suicide was disproportionate.

"It did not appear to be arbitrary for the law to reflect the importance of the right to life, by prohibiting assisted suicide while providing for a system of enforcement and adjudication which allowed due regard to be given in each particular case to the public interest in bringing a prosecution, as well as to the fair and proper requirements of retribution and deterrence."

Article 9 (freedom of conscience) - no violation

Mrs Pretty said that the failure to provide a scheme to allow her to end her life violated this act by preventing her from exercising her beliefs.

The ruling stated: "The applicant's claims did not involve a form of manifestation of a religion or belief, through worship, teaching, practice or observance as described in the second sentence of the first paragraph.

"The term "practice" did not cover each act which was motivated or influenced by a religion or belief."

Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) - no violation.

Mrs Pretty said that the current law discrimated against her, as an able-bodied person would be legally able to commit suicide, whereas she could not without help.

The ruling stated: "There was, in the Court's view, objective and reasonable justification for not distinguishing in law between those who were and those who were not physically capable of committing suicide.

"Cogent reasons existed for not seeking to distinguish between those who were able and those who were unable to commit suicide unaided.

"The borderline between the two categories would often be a very fine one and to seek to build into the law an exemption for those judged to be incapable of committing suicide would seriously undermine the protection of life which the 1961 Act was intended to safeguard and greatly increase the risk of abuse."

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

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

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories