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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
The dignity of Diane Pretty
The Pretty family
Diane's diagnosis came as a deep shock to the family
The enduring image of Diane Pretty is as a defiant woman in a wheelchair fighting against her illness and for a change in the law.

But the 43-year-old shared a happy, normal life with husband Brian long before motor neurone disease set them on the road to a high profile legal struggle for the right-to-die.

Ironically, the dignity she fought to preserve in death was one of her natural qualities.

Despite being distraught at the European verdict - delivered only a fortnight before she died - the tears she shed on her way to the press conference were bravely replaced by smiles when she faced the cameras moments later.


It wasn't love at first sight but it was love by the end of the day

Brian Pretty

And amid her disappointment at the prospect of the slow death she had always feared, she turned to her husband and whispered the words "I love you", which he repeated back to her.

It was a bittersweet moment for Mr Pretty, because his natural urge to be with his wife as long as possible was overriden by the sadness that she would die painfully.

He told the BBC: "I don't want to lose her - I want her back the way she was."

Humour

The couple met on a coach trip to Clacton when Diane was 15, and shared their first kiss under the pier at the Essex seaside town.

Mr Pretty, 45, recalled how they "clicked at once" and said: "It wasn't love at first sight but it was love by the end of the day."

And that love endured to the end, even though with her speech robbed by disease Mrs Pretty could eventually only express it through a talking machine operated by her wrist.

Diane Pretty
Diane was 15 when she met Brian

She told the BBC: "Because of the illness, we can't hold hands or walk arm in arm, have lengthy discussions or even cuddle, but we still have a laugh, still talk and still love each other."

The couple were married for 23 years with two children when Mrs Pretty was diagnosed in November 1999 with the degenerative condition.

Their first trip abroad together was to Strasbourg - for their European court hearing.

At the time Mr Pretty said: "It is very poignant. Our very first trip abroad is to come here to ask for Diane's right to die."

They were well known in the Luton community and bingo on Friday nights became their only social outing.
Diane Pretty on her wedding day, summer 1976
The couple married 25 years ago

Her death, by when she was a grandmother, came in the way she feared - in a hospice and with breathing difficulties.

On a web site set up with the help of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Mrs Pretty said: "I want to have a quick death without suffering, at home surrounded by my family so that I can say goodbye to them," the 43-year-old wrote.

Chris Jones, a member of the paramedic team who transported Mrs Pretty by ambulance during her legal battle, described her as "a fantastic woman".

"She has a great sense of humour, and in fact even with her machine we managed to have quite a conversation about why she was going to Strasbourg.

"Really it's a great shame that she has died so soon after trying to champion the cause."

VES director Deborah Annetts said she had been an "extraordinary woman".

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

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
Q&A: Right to die
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