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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
Diane Pretty dies
Diane Pretty with her husband Brian
Diane Pretty's husband Brian was at her bedside
A terminally ill British woman who lost a legal battle to allow her husband to help her commit suicide has died, her family have said.

Diane Pretty, who was in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease, died at a hospice near her home on Saturday, aged 43.

Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of - and there was nothing I could do to help

Brian Pretty
The mother-of-two had begun experiencing breathing difficulties 10 days ago, three days after she lost her right-to-die court challenge in the European Court of Human Rights.

Her husband Brian said "I was with Diane most of the day and was about to come home when I was stopped and told it was time.

"And then for Diane it was over, free at last."

He was "very proud" of her, Mr Pretty added.

His wife always said she wanted her husband to help her commit suicide because she feared the choking and asphyxia often caused by her disease.

'Staff wonderful'

Mr Pretty was at his wife's bedside when she died.

In a statement issued on Sunday by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), which supported the couple in their legal fight, he said she had slipped into a coma after suffering breathing difficulties.

Brian and Diane Pretty
The Prettys lost their legal battle
"On Thursday 2 May, Diane asked me to call the doctor as she was having trouble with her breathing," he said.

"She had no chest infection and her airways were clear.

"The next day she went into the hospice and started having breathing problems again.

"The doctors and nurses managed to get her stable for a few days but she was still in pain.

"The staff were wonderful at their job and there was always someone there with her.

Historic ruling

"They had trouble getting her comfortable and pain-free until Thursday evening, after which she started to slip into a coma-like state and eventually died.

"Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of - and there was nothing I could do to help."

Everyone who had the privilege of meeting her was struck by her humanity and bravery in the face of unbearable suffering

Deborah Annetts, Voluntary Euthanasia Society
In an historic ruling last month, European judges dismissed Mrs Pretty's claim that the British courts were contravening her human rights by refusing to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

The ruling marked the end of the legal road for Mrs Pretty, who criticised the decision.

After it was announced, she told a news conference in London: "The law has taken all my rights away."

After Mrs Pretty's death on Sunday, Dr Ryszard Bietzk, head of medical services at the Pasque Hospice, Luton, where Mrs Pretty was cared for, said her death was "perfectly normal, natural and peaceful".

George Levvy, chief executive of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said: "Diane showed great courage and determination, both in her battle against motor neurone disease and in her campaign through the courts.

"Her story has highlighted the devastating nature of MND and the need for people with the disease to have the best in palliative and terminal care."

But campaigners who had fought to block her case stood by their decision.

Rachel Hurst, director of Disability Awareness in Action, said it would be "very wrong for justice to say in certain circumstances people can die".

"It would be a slippery slope and many people who did not want to die could be affected," she said.

BBC One's Panorama programme followed the Prettys as they fought their legal battle.

Panorama: Please Help Me Die was screened on BBC One on the evening of the day she died. To watch it click here and follow the link.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Diane Pretty was a remarkable woman"
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society's Deborah Annetts
"There is a real need to look at the current law"
George Levvy of the Motor Neurone Disease Assoc.
"No one with the disease need die distressed"
BBC Panorama Reporter Sarah Barclay
"Her communication with the outside world was gradually cut off"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
Q&A: Right to die
13 May 02 | Health
In pictures: Diane Pretty
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