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Diane pretty
Diane's Cry

Sarah Barclay and Ken Kirby filmed with Diane during her last few weeks. Here, in an extract from her article published in the Observer on 12 May, Sarah describes what life was like for Diane.

When Diane wanted to tell you something she would make a noise something like a cross between a grunt and a moan.

Or make a movement with her eyes to indicate what she was after.

Someone to move her arm. Or scratch her eyebrow. Or wipe her eyes. Or suction the saliva out of her mouth because she couldn't clear her own throat.

Or fetch a bowl so she could be sick. Or massage her legs because they'd gone into spasm. Or change her catheter bag or her incontinence pad.

Or - yes - light her a cigarette and hold it between her lips so she could enjoy one of her few remaining pleasures in a life she wanted someone to help her end as soon as possible.

"she opened her mouth wide and howled - a sound which made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck."

There are those who will wonder why a woman with chronic asthma smoked like a chimney.

But they'll be the people who aren't in the terminal stages of motor neurone disease. In other words, most of us.

The following is from a transcript of a conversation between Diane and her husband Brian which we filmed for Panorama. A typical exchange.

Diane: "Ahhh"
Brian: "Itch? Where? Nose?"
Diane: "Ahh"
Brian: Middle? Tip? Do the whole lot, get it all over and done with?"
Diane: "Ahhh"
Brian: Is that it? Have I got it?"
Diane: "Ahhh"
Brian: "Oh, right down. Is that better?"
Diane: "Mmn"

If no-one could understand what Diane was trying to say, the grunt became a low-pitched scream.

Diane Pretty
Diane was totally reliant on her husband, Brian
If you still couldn't understand, it would start to get louder. And louder, until she opened her mouth wide and howled - a sound which made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

You could hear this cry from halfway down her street. If you didn't know that Diane Pretty lived in that house, you'd think it was an animal being tortured.

It wasn't. It was a 43-year-old mother of two who wanted someone to help her die. I heard this cry in its various guises many times over the month we were filming with Diane and Brian.

Although it began to shock me less as time went by, it never ceased to make me think that before we make up our minds about voluntary euthanasia or make sweeping judgements about other people's quality of life, we should listen to a cry like Diane's and attempt to understand what she meant when she said that for her, life was worse than death.

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Panorama: Please Help Me Die looks at the case of Diane Pretty


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