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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
Euthanasia verdict: What do you think?
A terminally ill British woman will not be allowed to end her own life with the help of her husband, the High Court has ruled.
Diane Pretty, from Luton, suffers from the incurable degenerative disorder motor neurone disease, which prevents her from committing suicide unaided.
But the Director of Public Prosecutions refused to rule out prosecuting her husband, Brian, if he helped her, and Mrs Pretty took the case to the High Court.
She argues that her quality of life has become so low that denying her the opportunity to end it is a breach of her human rights.
But after a week-long deliberation, the High Court rejected her appeal.
Should euthanasia be legalised in cases like these? Is it a person's ultimate right to decide how they want to die? Or should the right to life be protected at all costs?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I really don't believe that there is an answer to this question. Even with spiritual and religious arguments set aside, allowing euthanasia could lead down a slippery slope. On the other hand, any humane person desires to relieve suffering in others. My personal opinion, as a medical student is that euthanasia should be treated as any other medical decision. It should be mostly left up to the individual and their loved ones/ guardian. In certain cases, the medical ethics committee of the health care facility, or the local government, should assist in the decision making process.
Geoff Moore, UK
I support the concept of voluntary euthanasia, yet see tremendous problems with its application. We need to protect vulnerable people, not just from exploitation but also from social pressure, such as the wish not to be a burden on our families or society. We know from experience that some people are reluctant to take help from the state (or from any source for that matter), and the government exploits the "shame" involved in claiming benefits to put off legitimate claimants. So, it does not seem too far stretched to imagine a government exploiting this sort to shame to covertly encourage euthanasia. On a more personal level, we know this goes on within families. People commit suicide to prevent them becoming a burden upon their family. We live in an extremely affluent society where this should never happen, but it does. The only solution would be to legalise euthanasia by licence, one which can only be granted after going before a hearing, perhaps of judges, probably of health professionals. This way the potential to exploit and abuse the system could be effectively tempered.
What is clear is that the majority here feel that everyone has the right to choose when they die. Of those who are against, most base their decision not on their own insights but on adherence to a belief system. Someone mentioned that Britain is no longer a Christian country and this seems to be at the crux of the dilemma. Perhaps the lawmakers' greatest fears are to break away from such basic life-and-death issues (such as life is above all sacred) inherited from a religious doctrine which after all is still Britain's official moral compass. The idea that "where would it all take us" if people were allowed to help their nearest and dearest to die in certain circumstances is to greatly mistrust the intelligence of a mature nation that (dare I say it?) may have gone beyond religion and be capable of making its own decisions?
I feel it is a basic human right to die as and when I feel I have had enough. If I get to the point where I'm a cabbage, in pain, with no means of dealing with my own bodily functions then not only am I suffering but so are all who have to look after me. I have decided not to be a pain to my family when and if I get to that stage. I don't intend to be a burden to my family. I want to go out quickly and cleanly with a minimum of fuss much as my own father did. If this means that a law needs to be passed then so be it.
All condemnation of euthanasia and assisted suicide is utter hypocrisy. We freely give the "right to kill" to soldiers and armed police in various situations, and yet we threaten with prosecution a man who simply wants to end his wife's suffering.
As someone with a chronic disabling illness I believe in my right to die when I choose and how I choose to die.
Those who argue against euthanasia are the same bunch who argue against abortion proclaiming the sanctity of life, but have no qualms sending young men and women off to die in illegal wars. The same way they have no qualms bombing Iraq - so much for the sanctity and preciousness of life.
I watched my mother die of breast
cancer in a hospital bed trying as
hard as she could to preserve her
dignity while in absolute agony with
as much morphine legally possible to administer
to her ravaged and disfigured body.
Two days before she died, in a morphine stupor, she got up thinking
she could walk and broke her pelvis bone, hand, wrist and hip when she fell
to the floor.
They put her back in bed to wait for her to die
and she suffered more than any living
being should suffer. If I could have
put her out of her misery, I would have, right there and then.
Is it more criminal to let one suffer so much? Or to end it?
My cat has more rights then my poor mother did.
The "right to die" should absolutely belong to anyone who wishes to exercise it under appropriate circumstances. I live in Oregon in the USA where we have twice voted overwhelmingly to allow "physician assisted suicide", meaning that drugs can be prescribed but the patient must take them herself. This is a step in the right direction but is limited by the fact that many have reached the stage where they can't take the pills without help but don't want to take them any sooner than they feel they must. Why should anyone suffer needlessly when there is no hope of recovery or relief?
Of course you should be able to, why
keep someone alive if they are suffering
to me it does make sense that we
can't, if this was a dog or a cat there
would be no question asked, if people
choose for this outcome when they are
in a sane mind that should be their choice,
I say the people that oppose this are
inhuman, I hope this law does get passed
before I or anyone I know gets
sick with cancer or any other problems.
I don't agree with it on religious grounds BUT in a largely secular society built on the premise of liberal democracy there is no logical argument against euthanasia. It is essentially a victim-less
"crime". The people involved should be free to choose. That's the whole point of our society. It is hypocrisy to suggest otherwise.
The safeguards are readily available - just your local GP is all that is required!
The Dutch have shown that euthanasia is workable and frankly, I just don't know what all the fuss about.
Of course it is right and proper for people who are suffering, or whose quality of life is extremely poor, to take their own lives (or for their loved ones to assist them in this).
To prevent abuses all you need is a bit of commonsense.
Kelly A. Freeman, United Kingdom
I believe that this is something that you should choose once you are old enough to make an educated decision.
I reckon no jury in the land would pass a guilty verdict of murder and most judges would be lenient on sentencing
My mother is terminally ill and I am happy that she is in the "EXIT" organisation. Nobody, not even family members have the right to decide on another person's life. That a woman has having to go to court for the permission to die, is just unbelievable!
A large portion of this argument seems to involve the concept of a God and the sanctity of life. Take that God away & you remove at least one barrier to the pro euthanasia argument. I try to believe in social as well as biological evolution. After all don't we live in an increasingly secular society?
The only people who have the right to decide whether or not euthanasia/suicide is a good idea or not are those who are ever in the unfortunate position of having to make a decision about themselves. In my personal opinion, I think Diane Pretty should be allowed to end her own life with the aid of her husband. Those who don't agree with this - fine! If and when you have an incurable illness, with no possibility of recovery, the only thing ahead of you is constant pain, followed by death, don't choose suicide/euthanasia. But, don't criticise others for making there own decisions about their own lives.
Graham Follett, UK
I have always supported a person's rights to determine their own fate.
And if I were in Diane's position I would probably also consider trying to end my suffering.
We will all die some day. I don't think it is too much to ask that we can suffer as little as possible in doing so.
Is it a "licence to commit crime" or a licence to end a pitiful and terrible life?
It is obvious that when the person involved expresses her own free will to put an end to his life, it should be granted. However, it is necessary that this should be quoted officially in presence of several doctors or a judge, to prevent abuse in some cases.
It is a very controversial subject, but as the case and situation of this women shows, one wonders what the purpose of continuing life in this condition is.
Euthanasia is the thin end of a very long wedge. In a world where rights are everything, and responsibility is nothing, the legal precedent that would be set if this ruling were to allow the course of action that Mrs Pretty would like, even though I do feel sympathy for her suffering.
My grandfather died earlier this year at a grand old age. However, I do not think he would have reached 90 if he were allowed to legally decide that he was too much of a burden to the rest of us. People should be allowed the right to live their lives without the pressure to make such a decision.
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland
So, the law says that we can't end our own lives whenever we wish. Nor can we aid euthanasia to help end the suffering of others.
So much for living in a free country¿
The problem legalising euthanasia is that it would be very difficult to come up with procedures that would safeguard certain vulnerable groups and prevent the system from being abused. In my opinion the courts were right to reject Mrs Pretty's request.
If one is to argue that life is sacred, then surely this applies to all life, to distinguish between human and other forms of life would be hypocritical. This poor woman is clearly suffering a great deal and to force her to continue to do so when it is known that her suffering will only increase is cruel and inhumane. We would not do the same to an animal in those circumstances. Mrs Pretty should be given the right to choose a dignified end for her earthly life.
Ray L, Britain
If my head hurts, I stop my pain by taking aspirin. If my back hurts, I go for a massage. If my whole body hurts beyond the point of recovery, I think that I am the only one that can tell the extent of the pain and I should be able to decide how I deal with it. It is my right to end my suffering, just as I would take my hand out of the fire if it was burning.
No one need be blamed for this woman's plight. No one should intervene in her demise, as that would be murder. Suicides go to hell in the bible and although I am not religious, if that's the case can they not place the woman in a caring hospice with pain relief until she passes away. The NHS use morphine on cancer patients to cause the system to shut down and hasten death, why can't it be done for this woman. Or why not give her a machine with a syringe driver full of morphine which she could activate on her own, meaning the choice is then in her hands and no one else's.
This is not a question of owning one's life. It's a matter of whether or not we should respect our lives. I am against assisted suicide, and can't help but wonder why we would equate ourselves to animals cared for by a vet? It is not our choosing whether we live or die, but it is ours to choose how we live. I watched many people with awful diseases go to their graves with support and love from their families regardless of how immobilized they were or how they suffered. We need to evaluate the motivation behind those who assist death. Is this the quick fix to the end of their suffering? To me it's murder from every angle.
Pauline Willmott, England
I support Mrs Pretty wholeheartedly, I am deeply disappointed that she has not been allowed to end her suffering with dignity at a time and place of her choice. In cases like this the law as it stands is wrong and should be changed as soon as possible. We allow abortion and the switching off of life-support machines which makes it hypocritical to deny our right to die if we so choose.
I am against Euthanasia for a number of reasons. I know of many disabled people that make the most of every second of their lives and quite often amaze me with their courage. Also we can't be sure that medical advances will not be made in the near future that will help these people. The worst thing is giving up hope, and Euthanasia is just what this is.
Paul Adams, UK
Euthanasia is the taking of a life where the "quality" aspect has deteriorated so much a person prefers to be put to rest. I think everyone has the right to dignity in death where there is no hope of improvement.
The result is unsurprising - Diane Pretty tried to argue that the Right to Life (European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2) included a right to choose how and when to end it, and that because one's own suicide is not illegal she was being discriminated against on the grounds of disability, because she could not end her life herself. This argument is at best strained and at worst downright devious - I am glad the Court of Appeal rejected it, and I hope the House of Lords will as well.
I have to say my feelings are that, with comprehensive legal and medical safeguards, a person should have the right to choose to end their own life. I recognise that many religions disagree with this position and I respect their right to do so. However as an atheist I have no such belief and having witnessed a loved one suffer a long term, terminal illness that eventually they died from just over a year ago, I know I would choose to end my life before then.
What is all the fuss about? This is not teenage suicide, it's about doctors ending the suffering. It's more morally acceptable than customising your children's DNA.
If we were to keep a pet alive who is suffering or paralysed, we would be classified as a monster... The vet usually tells us: "we'll put it to sleep, it's better that way, it won't suffer". Why can't we enjoy the same rights as animals?
Richard Clark, England
People are responsible for their own lives. Personally I believe that euthanasia should be legal for people with a low quality of life.
I cannot blame the High Court for its decision. However the merciful option would be to look the other way when Brian Pretty does as his wife asks. There is nothing to stop them from going to the Netherlands. Personally I'm not in favour of assisted suicide, but then I'm not experiencing the enormous distress that drives people to do this.
I read that if Mr Pretty assisted his wife, then he would face 14 years in prison for the "crime he committed". So what is a crime? Surely it is an act carried out on a person without their consent. What we have here is not a crime, but a person not wishing to suffer any more. To play God and tell someone they do not have the right to choose the path of their life is pure and simply wrong. I do hope common sense prevails through all of this.
A simple question: If you do not own your own life, what do you own?
Chris , Kent, UK
What a difficult subject! Of course the judge was right; had he said otherwise it would open the floodgates for all sorts of questionable activities. Not everyone acts out of unselfish motives! A doctor who administers drugs to alleviate pain which may or may not result in early death usually does so out of compassion - and there it should stay - no publicity or boasting, just leave it at that. It is such a shame that no one is prepared anymore to leave their fate in the hands of God.
My grandfather had a stroke when I was very young, and I only knew him as a man in a wheelchair with the use of one arm. Every time I saw him he was sad and even cried on occasion. He just wanted to die. He and anyone else should be allowed to end their lives if the situation is beyond hope and getting worse. Those who don't like this should keep quiet and live their own lives how they want.
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland
I don't care whether parliament or the judiciary sets the precedent, I just wish that for once those on high would exhibit some vestigial common sense. A cowardly, imbecilic decision indeed.
I do not support Euthanasia. Not for any religious or moral grounds, but because of the risk of abuse. However, Mrs Pretty's case was not about Euthanasia, and it is deeply saddening to see it hijacked by the 'moral majority'. Suicide was decriminalised a long time ago in the UK, yet Mrs Pretty has had the right to take her own life taken away from her.
Surely the ultimate Human Right is the freedom to choose when and how to die. This is not euthanasia, where someone else makes the life or death decision, but someone in great pain electing to end their own suffering, with the support of someone who loves her dearly.
David O'Connor, USA
Although I have the utmost sympathy for Diane Pretty's situation, the judges clearly made the right decision. Allowing euthanasia in exceptional cases will eventually lead to it becoming acceptable in many many more cases. There is a slippery slope - it's happened with abortion, it's happening with human cloning, and we mustn't allow it to happen with euthanasia.
It seems strange that were I to force a healthy person to live like Mrs Pretty I would be charged for torture. Yet forcing Mrs Pretty and her family to spend the rest of her life suffering constant pain is seen as the 'just' thing to do. Will the judges feel the same if their loved ones are struck by this terrible disease I wonder?
I think that a person should be given the right to end their own life. Doctors play god everyday, making decisions about whether a person should live or die. The recent case of the conjoined twins was put into the hands of such people - not god. What gives certain individuals the right to choose and not others? It should be down to the individual. If the issue is one of god being opposed to suicide, then the individual who has chosen this will be the person that is answerable.
Euthanasia is a very sensitive issue and deserves a lot of thought and consideration. I think the time is right because more and more people today are dying of incurable and degenerative diseases that cause a lot of distress. I think lawmakers throughout the world should think about this in a much more open minded fashion than they are doing now. I know that these kind of laws, if passed, can be misused; but in cases where the agony of the patient is unbearable, euthanasia should be permitted. I disagree with people who say that "no-one has the human right to procure their own death", and that euthanasia will be a "license to commit crime". Can ending somebody's distress in such cases be considered as a crime?? This woman has the right to die in dignity.
People don't do this because they feel they are a burden, they do this because they cannot stand the pain any longer, and their situation is beyond any hope for improvement.
Diane Pretty should go to Holland. I hope you review your laws soon and let the individual decide, within proper guidelines.
I hurt for Diane Pretty because of the great suffering that she is going through. I wish I could stop it. However, the paradigm never was the quality of life but the worth of life! If it were the quality of life we would all have to plan our self destruction right now, because which one of us experiences 100% pleasure, 100% of the time? Some arguments here seems to say that if you aren't in constant ecstasy your life is not worth much! I wish you would think the logical implications of your argument through and stop attacking those with a faith in God! I believe Diane Pretty is a unique and priceless human being!
I support voluntary euthanasia, but as a registered nurse don't expect me to take part.
I think that a person can cope with much more suffering and pain if they know that they can end it. Therefore the possibility of suicide (whether assisted or not) helps people to cope with their suffering.
I don¿t believe this is our life. Since we have no role in creating our life, how can we justify to taking it. Life is the gift of Nature. Anyone who commits suicide does so because of the miserable life he or she is facing. Allowing Euthanasia would have long term negative impact on the society.
Rustam Roy, England
The majority view here is pro-euthanasia. Perhaps the UK Government should take note.
It is up to the individual to decide, not society, when life becomes unbearable enough that dying seems a preferable option than living. We all fear an undignified, protracted and painful death. A person who makes that decision has thought long and hard as the most basic instinct is to survive and live. We have no say on how we enter this world but we should have the right to end our lives, if we so choose, in a controlled, dignified and loving way.
It sickens me to think any one of us might have to spend many years of painful and undignified life to satisfy the morals of strangers. Denying euthanasia in these cases is exactly equivalent to active physical and mental torture.
Mohamed Abdirisaaq, Finland
Life is a beautiful gift from God and no one has a right to take it.
It is time people stopped bleating on about the sanctity of human life. What sanctity is there in nasogastric tubes, double incontinence, bedsores, and unbearable pain? One day we will extend humane treatment to humans.
The moral argument against euthanasia does not stand up. If it is up to mother nature or god to decide when a life is over, surely we should not save the lives of dying people. You cannot argue that to intervene in the natural process is right when you are saving a life, but wrong when you are ending a life.
Stephen Axtell, UK
I think the human race is a very twisted and selfish race. It's quite alright to end another species life when they are terminally ill, but to do it to the human race is a completely different matter - why?! We don't like to see animals suffer so why do we let humans suffer as well? If Diane is inevitably going to die soon and is clearly in a lot of pain and stress, then why can't she commit suicide and die in a more dignified and painless way? I think it is completely up to the individual and their families to decide whether to let them die or not and no one else. Though I do agree there should be strong safeguards in place to ensure that families don't kill their relatives just because they are a burden.
What message would the legalisation of euthanasia give to disabled people? Shouldn't we also be concerned with human responsibilities as well as human rights?
Martin Gamble should be ashamed. Does he really believe that it is Mrs Pretty's responsibilty as a human being to put herself through unbearable suffering, complete loss of dignity and the pain of watching the strain take its toll on her family? Is it her responsibility to accept that she has a terminal, degenerative disease and to allow it to control her life and dictate the manner in which it ends? By asking that her husband be allowed to assist her in ending her life, Mrs Pretty is making a brave step, and shouldering far more responsibility than most people ever will. She is choosing to die with dignity, with sanity, and with the knowledge that her family will be spared the pain of watching her condition deteriorate further. Although the High Court has made this cowardly decision, I believe that Mrs Pretty and her husband should go ahead with their plan. Nobody with any sense of justice and morality could possibly live with the guilt of convicting this man and punishing him for making such a carefully considered, responsible decision with his wife.
Shintaro Kanaoya, UK
Twenty years ago I was called upon to serve my country in the cause of democracy. I freely volunteered my life by joining the RN. Therefore if I wish, I should have the right to end my life, should the conditions warrant this action.
Isn't it ironic that the law that will not allow this poor woman to end her life peacefully is the same law that would make it a crime to keep an animal alive in such a situation?
If a dignified life is a fundamental human right, a dignified death should also be.
Brian Langfield, Doncaster - UK
This is not euthanasia, it is assisted suicide - a different matter entirely. Mrs Pretty wishes to die, and has said so in clear and unequivocal terms. It is not necessary for a panel of doctors to assess her chances of recovery. Nobody needs to make the judgement that this person should be allowed to die. Were she physically capable she would undoubtedly kill herself. To prevent her husband from helping her is manifestly perverse. As a Christian I do not believe I would make the same choice as Mrs Pretty, but I would not feel I have the right to force my values on her.
I strongly believe euthanasia should NOT be made legal... mainly based on my religious beliefs, I'm afraid. Although I believe people should have their rights to freedom preserved and respected, euthanasia seems different. With the rapid pace of development of medicine and surgery, who can guarantee that motor neurone disease would still be incurable in the near future? I can't imagine health professionals becoming death professionals. I will have to agree with the judges' decision but I really feel sorry for Diane Pretty. If only humans would stop wasting money on destructive weapons and start funding research instead!
While I certainly don't condone suicide, it is wrong to force this humiliation and degradation on a human being.
What are the legal implications if Diane Pretty and her husband travel to Holland and he carries out her wishes?
It is very clear from reading what people in this country and Europe are saying on this subject that Europe has lost its Christian beliefs. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the message is one from God on this subject "It is a sin to take one's own life".
The court is wrong - lets hope the House of Lords alters this ruling. Haven't this lady and her family already suffered enough? It is about time that people realised that no God worth worshiping would want to see his followers die under these circumstances. If he does then maybe the worship is not warranted.
Barry Davis, UK
I agree with Barry Davis. She should be allowed to choose whether she wants to die or not. After all its her life. I am a former Muslim, by the way. It's not right for religion to say that God gave her life and so she cant kill herself. She never asked for this life, did she?
Legalising euthanasia would put pressure on people who need expensive treatment or a lot of care to kill themselves. No one wants to be a burden, but do we really want OAP's feeling that they are a burden and should do the right thing and get themselves killed?
I had a elderly relative who felt that she was wasting money being in a nursing home when she could pass it on to her grandchildren.
Michael Entill, UK
It's a strange world we live in where Governments can prohibit one person from taking their own life but cause death to thousands of innocent people through bombing campaigns.
I, for one, feel it is my right to choose whether or not to live in pain or indignity. To bring any religion into the issue simply denies people the right to their own thoughts and beliefs. I have my own, personal, religion that says my life is my own, and what I do with it, unless it harms another, is my right. As to the issue of whether or not she "really means it" - well, I suspect that the trouble and pain she's put herself through should be proof enough for anyone - and if she has sanctioned this, then there should be no punishment for anyone that assists her.
One of the judges said that her right was to 'live with dignity, not to die with dignity.' Diane Pretty can't move and is entirely dependent on her family for everything and faces a slow, painful and untimely death from an incurable disease - and to cap it all she has been forced to drag herself and her family through the courts to try and get what should be a basic human right. Exactly how is any of that 'living with dignity'?
One of the suggestions is that Mrs Pretty has no dignity because she is dependent on others and is unable to move. By this measure do we assume that Stephen Hawking and many others have no dignity to their lives? The taking of human life is wrong. I feel immensely sorry for the suffering this woman is going through but how can anyone rationally decide when the right time to die is and then ask another to carry out their wishes?
I believe in Euthanasia and believe that the terminally ill do have a 'right' to 'die with dignity'.
Any law that gives the right to kill for whatever reason, needs to be backed up with strong safeguards. To ensure it is not abused and that those terminally ill who want to live the longest they can, are protected from overzealous husbands, wives, etc.
18 Oct 01 | Health
Woman loses right-to-die case
31 Aug 01 | Health
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20 Aug 01 | J-M
Motor neurone disease
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