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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK
Diane's final journey
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By BBC Health Correspondent Karen Allen

Diane Pretty died on Saturday afternoon in precisely the circumstances which she'd fought so hard to avoid.

She was heavily sedated and in a Bedfordshire hospice - this was not the death she wanted.

She wouldn't, of course, want to undermine the professionalism of staff there - her husband Brian phoned me on Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to their kindness and support and to tell me of her death.

But he said he could never forgive the justice system for what they had put his wife through by refusing to grant him immunity from prosecution were he to help her take her own life.

But the law deals with cold absolutes, not human emotion.

It couldn't accommodate the arguments that the voiceless Diane Pretty articulated so very well through her computer, even though the judges saw for themselves the cruelty of the disease that was killing her.

Just two weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that it was the disease that robbed Diane of her dignity - not the English law that prevented her seeking help to die.

Final irony

But the irony is that less than two weeks later in her final hours, doctors were able to heavily sedate her.

Their primary aim to alleviate her pain but in all probability the medication helped ease her passage to death.

This so called "double effect" rule which is legal - shows how hypocritical the present situation is.

A fitting tribute to this feisty 43 year old would be a mature debate on the subject which is long overdue.

I was first invited into Diane and Brian life last summer when their campaign began.

My journalistic instincts told me to be cautious; impartial and keep some distance, but like so many others I couldn't help being profoundly moved by their desperate situation.

Here was a woman - a sharp-minded women who knew full well the course her disease would take, yet whose disability rendered her incapable of committing suicide unassisted.

She accepted the views of her critics - that more liberal suicide laws could lead to abuses - but felt they had no concept of what she was going through.

Head on

Many of us might have ended it all quietly in the privacy of our own homes, but Diane Pretty chose instead to take the might of the legal establishment head on.

This said her husband Brian, time and time, again was simply "Diane's way".

She's always been open about her life, so why should she not be open about the manner of hear death?

Publicly Diane Pretty smiled for the cameras even though her worsening condition was clear with every appearance she made. Yet behind closed doors she screamed with pain and frustration at the cruelty of having to go on.

The phrase "I feel that I have already died and I'm just waiting for my body to catch up" uttered mechanically from her computer, captured her craving to be released from her cruel situation.

That has finally happened but it has been traumatic not just for Diane but for her whole family.

Harrowing truth

Her agreement to allow every brutal moment of her illness to be filmed was a brave gesture.

The bed baths, the tears and the vomiting - awful scenes that we as observers could walk away from at the end of the day - were laid bare.

These will of course have offended some but they achieved one important point.

To show that there is very little dignity at the end stages of a condition like motor neurone disease - they exposed her humiliation and suffering.

There are many people I have spoken to who say that the cause Diane Pretty was fighting for was wrong.

But if I had to endure the brutality of motor neurone disease, I know what I would choose.

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