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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Pretty condemns right-to-die ruling
A British woman's final legal bid to win the right to die has failed, on the same day it emerged that another campaigner was finally able to end her life.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Monday that terminally-ill Diane Pretty did not have the right to die.

The verdict came several hours before it was announced another patient, known only as "Miss B", died peacefully in hospital. She died last Wednesday just weeks after the UK's High Court had ruled that she should be allowed to die.

The law has taken all my rights away

Diane Pretty
Civil rights groups said the two cases and the different outcomes highlighted the need for a major review of UK law.

The crucial difference between the two is that Miss B was asking for her treatment - a ventilator - to be stopped, whereas Diane Pretty requested active intervention to end her life.

Historic ruling

In an historic ruling, European judges dismissed Mrs Pretty's claim that the British government was contravening her human rights by refusing to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

Delivering an unanimous verdict, they said: "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."

But they added: "No right to die, whether at the hands of a third person or with the assistance of a public authority could be derived."

The ruling marks the end of the legal road for 43-year-old Mrs Pretty, who is in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease and is paralysed from the neck down.

At a news conference in London, Mrs Pretty criticised the decision and said: "The law has taken all my rights away."

Her husband Brian called on members of the public to sign a petition - available on Diane's website - calling for the law to be changed.

Legal death

Within hours, the Department of Health announced that another 43-year-old woman, Miss B, had died peacefully in her sleep last week after winning the legal right to have medical treatment withdrawn.

In a statement, it said: "She has died peacefully in her sleep after being taken off the ventilator at her request."

It follows last month's High Court ruling which found Miss B had to right "to refuse consent to life-sustaining medical treatment".

Mrs Pretty's solicitor, Mona Arshi, from the civil rights organisation Liberty, called for a review of the law.

"It seems odd that Diane doesn't have a right to die how she wishes when a court earlier this year upheld `Miss B's' right to require doctors to turn off her life support machine.

"We call on the government to take action to remedy this injustice."

Liberty and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said the Director for Public Prosecution could draw up a policy document outlining when individuals could help others to die without fear of prosecution.

Deborah Annetts, director of the society, said: "As a lasting testimony to the courage and bravery of Diane Pretty we ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to put in place a policy within the framework of the Suicide Act that allows Diane Pretty the good death that she so desperately wants."

However, medical ethicist Dr Gillian Craig warned against comparing the two cases.

She told BBC News: "In the case of 'Miss B' she was wanting medical treatment to be stopped and anyone who is in their right mind has every right to have medical treatment stopped.

"Diane Pretty was asking to be killed and that is an entirely different matter."

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Though one has a right to life, there is no automatic right to die"
Dr Gillian Craig of the anti-euthanasia group Alert
"Diane has the option to refuse treatment"
Diane Pretty's solicitor, Mona Arshi
"She is very disappointed"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
Q&A: Right to die
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