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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
The right to die: Should euthanasia be made legal?
Terminally ill British woman Diane Pretty - who fought and lost a long legal battle to allow her husband to help her commit suicide - has died.
Mrs Pretty, 43, from Luton, suffered from motor neurone disease and wanted her husband Brian to help end her life because she feared a slow and painful death from asphyxiation.
But the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that the refusal of the British courts to allow her wish to be carried out was not a contravention of her human rights.
As a result her husband said she had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of - and there was nothing he could do to ease her suffering.
Assisted suicide is not a crime in Belgium and Holland and is tolerated in Germany and Switzerland, but pro-life groups argue it is wrong and that euthanasia sets a dangerous precedent and is open to abuse.
Do you think euthanasia should be made legal? What is your reaction to Diane Pretty's death?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Diane Pretty was terminally ill and asked in person for her right to die. She was able to communicate clearly what she wanted. She should therefore have been heard. I can understand the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few, but that is to protect those unable to communicate who may be vulnerable from 'do gooders' or exasperated family. Mrs Pretty made clear what she wanted - her decision, no-one else's.
Mike, London, UK
The people against euthanasia here seem to be the god squatters, whilst the majority of sensible people see that this would be a good thing.
Obviously there should be checks and balances - a person should be terminally ill with no hope of remission, and a doctor should agree. It should not be left to family members to make the ultimate decision, just the initial application.
I'm fully in favour of Euthanasia. I watched relatives suffer this way and I hope the people her who are against this sleep happy at night knowing they are causing someone somewhere unimaginable pain and suffering!
It seems that the only argument against Euthanasia here is that classic piece of logical reasoning: "God wouldn't want you to!". What an absolute crock! Surely if this is the argument, those that do not adhere to this particular cult should be allowed to die in the way they choose.
To the people that say "life should run
its own course", "only God can decide", etc
- why is that they don't object to
the actions of medical staff in prolonging
life? If they are to be consistent
then surely they should argue against any
artificial treatment that is used to save life as well.
Under no situation is life ours to take. There is mystery in end of life. We need to focus our attention on end of life care which eases pain and suffering but does not end life. Peace
Martin K, London, UK
Human Rights have become a major issue over recent years, so why not give a human the right to choose when they are going to die. It is surely a fundamental right.
I hope Alan, UK from the first board of this discussion is out there. If the reports are correct Diane Pretty suffered breathing difficulties for 10 days before finally succumbing to slow painful asphyxiation (choking). That is apparently common in cases of Motor neurone disease and can only be extremely unpleasant. What can painkillers do in these circumstances? Not a lot. Euthanasia should be allowed where the patient is suffering from an incurable and lethal disease and when the patient expresses those wishes in front of witnesses. This should include a court representative, doctor and a family member.
Until and unless it comes upon you to take a decision you can never say yes or no in this matter. Though as an outsider I have cast my vote as yes to euthanasia, but if it were to be my choice to choose the death or life of my loved one - I simply won't be able to say yes or no.
I suppose that those who say that life is precious and a gift from God etc, would deny themselves treatment should they have any illnesses and let "nature take its course", put their life in Gods hands as it were... it works both ways if the taking of life is against God's will then surely the extension by artificial means is exactly the same...
Regardless of your opinion, surely everyone must agree that Diane and her husband maintained tremendous grace while the press - and the world - were in their faces for the last trying, difficult weeks of her life. They are an example to all of us. May she rest in peace.
The culture of consumerism and individualism in today's modern world, in a way, is dismantling traditional family and social cohesion that to care for one another is proving difficult thus making those frail to opt for death as a human right. This is sad. Life is God's gift that is given in stewardship not ownership.
Ursula Kirkpatrick, Sharbot Lake, Canada
Anyone who forced an animal to suffer as Diane Pretty did would be considered a monster. The majority of comments here are in favour of honouring the wishes of people in this horrible situation; perhaps the matter could be reconsidered by the various legal bodies.
Life has to be valued and protected in all it phases, from the foetus stage to the point of termination. No one has any amount of moral or legal justification to interfere with the beauty of life. Killing is killing, and there is no good killing or bad killing, they all terminate the existence of a person. In as much as no one can begin to kill mentally retarded people who have defied every imaginable therapy for normal livelihood, no one can kill a patient, regardless of how much physical pain there may be.
The debate about euthanasia in many countries including the United Kingdom will go on arguing what is right or wrong about its concept. Mrs. Pretty did seem to have an exceptional case on its own merits particular in relation to her suffering and pain and knowing the full inevitability of what was to come.
What is a little frustrating or perhaps even intimidating is the fact that the European Court of Human Rights ruled against her wishes and yet we see many countries within the European perimeter allowed to exercise quite a free choice on euthanasia. Exceptional circumstances should always be allowed for, for who has the right to determine if somebody should suffer in quietness? Mrs. Pretty has shown great dignity in accepting the authority of the court and we offer our prayers for the pain and suffering she endured to now have gone and for her to be allowed to rest in peace after having gone through a highly exposed case.
We really have to ask ourselves the fundamental question, "Why, when 90% of the population have indicated they would be in favour of euthanasia, are we not changing the laws to reflect public opinion?" It really seems to be a case of the tail wagging the dog and makes a mockery of the notion that we are truly a democracy. No doubt some "expert" will come on and tell me they know better, but quite frankly all they would be doing is reflecting minority opinion. Had we continued to let Mother Nature take her course in all matters we would never have made any medical advances at all, so that argument does not hold much water either from where I sit.
It is cruel to deny someone their dignity, in death as well as in life. It's their life and their body, people should be able to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.
I cried when I heard Mrs Pretty had died. Not because of her death, but of her last few days of suffering. The people who decided that this brave woman had to suffer so much pain before death seem to prize adherence to man-made laws above humanitarian reason. My thoughts and prayers are with the Pretty family.
Euthanasia must not be legal at any cost. Life is given by God and it must be left up to God to decide about its end. We must not try to explain everything and decide everything by human logic. Few things are beyond our perception and logic. God requires us to believe in those issues with our eyes closed and the life and death are one of them.
Joanna Preston-Wyse, UK
This case demonstrates that there is a genuine need for some mechanism whereby such action can be taken. Obviously the vulnerable should be protected, so I would suggest that a judge should have to make a ruling first, but with that proviso, the law should be changed.
When watching a person suffer like Ms Pretty it is easy to be swept along in a tide of emotion and agree with the idea of allowing people to end their own lives. The problem is however, once you open the door to mercy killing, whose standards will be used to determine who can and who cannot end their own life?
Dave, Kent, UK
After watching last night's Panorama programme, I could understand why Diane Pretty wanted to die with dignity. Especially, when the nurse and Diane's husband had to take care of washing her and all the personal hygiene. If ever I were in such a situation I would like to know that someone would help me to die and not suffer the indignity of dying like this.
Much as any pain and suffering is regrettable, I believe that the decision of the courts is correct. Diane Pretty maintained that, with outside assistance, she wanted to choose the time and manner of her death. I do not believe this is mankind's right, just as it is not our right to choose the time and manner of another person's death.
Ed Sexton, Twickenham, UK
The failure of the British justice system to help Diane Pretty presents a dilemma for other MND sufferers who are still at an early stage of their illness. Will those who fear the final stages of the illness feel compelled to take their own lives whilst they are still able to do so unassisted, rather than wait until their illness has overwhelmed them? This is the logical conclusion of the judicial process, yet it leads to an appalling decision for sufferers to take, leading to the possibility that many may prefer to terminate their lives prematurely, rather than face the final onset of a cruel disease.
Physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill is a battle for the preservation of human dignity above all else. Humanity lost!
Yes, of course. It is the necessary ultimate consequence of human emancipation and liberation from dogmas and religious institutes
Nobody denies that Ms Pretty's death was a tragedy. But the comments below from Fraser Heath and Pete are sadly typical of people (on both sides of the question) who try to stifle debate by angrily grabbing the moral high ground. As it happens I agree with their sentiment: but let's have some courtesy, please, and some recognition that this is an extremely difficult moral problem.
To Ann Heneghan - It's all very well dishing out painkillers, but physical pain is only one aspect of this tragic case. What about the mental pain and anguish diane pretty suffered for so long?
Isn't it actually unethical for medics and the court to effectively condemn someone to suffer in that state?
Please remember that people who oppose euthanasia do not oppose treatment which eases suffering but which may (as an unintended side effect) shorten life. I very much doubt that Mrs Pretty was denied pain killers. It is IMPOSSIBLE to legalize murder without the system being abused.
Paul, Gloucester, England
Rest In Peace Diane, I only hope she and her family did not have to go through the traumatic death that my mother did who also died from MND at the age of 50. It is just a shame she never got her wish, maybe other people will carry on her fight
It seems to me to be the ultimate cruelty to refuse someone unable to kill themselves the right to die. I too am disgusted at the legal system in Britain and Europe, surely if they couldn't allow her husband to help Mrs Pretty they could at least have authorised a doctor to assist her?
The court ruling on the Pretty case made me truly ashamed to be part of this society.
So it is thought that she should have had the right to die because she was afraid of the pain (of her last days). Full sympathy for Diane, but if she had been granted the right to assisted suicide, eventually I'm sure this would have opened up the floodgates for people who are scared about future pain to end their lives. Also, what if the person who wants this right is mentally unstable? Where is the line drawn?
Colin Basham, Germany
I believe in letting life take its own course, not usurping God's right to decide when to do things in their good time. Just in as much as we have to wait for 9 months for a pregnancy to bear its fruit, and then we rejoice when we handle a bundle of joy, so do we have to wait patiently for whatever time brings along with it even if it is death. We sadly hear of too many stories regretting sudden deaths, so why bother about terminating a life which may well be the sole reason for our meaningful existence?
When a human has lost quality of life to the point that he or she wishes to terminate their existence, the law should allow them to accomplish this with help if needed. There are times when being alive is surely worse than death. Thank goodness Diane isn't suffering anymore - but it's a tragedy she had to endure those final painful days when she could have passed away at a time of her own choosing.
Assisting another in ending his suffering should be legal, but it is difficult to assign a physician - who must take an oath to heal and not harm - to this task. A sensible alternative would be a variation of a living will: instructions to loved ones allowing them to assist in ending life, even when requested by a mentally stable and vocal patient.
I find it hard to believe that a civilised society cannot devise a way for desperately, terminally, ill people to obtain a court order to permit their assisted death.
Perhaps we are not as civilised as we like to think.
The sheer arrogance of those who denied Diane Pretty the right to end her own life beggars belief. At the end of the day, just as with abortion, IVF etc., this is a deeply personal decision - and I fail to see why pro-lifers should have the right to impose their views upon anyone in any of these fields.
As I understand it, the arguments against euthanasia are generally based on religious beliefs and/or concerns about "abuse" of the procedure. The rebuttal of the first basis is easy enough; the law should be secular. It is not the prerogative of an intolerantly religious minority to dictate morality to the rest of us. As for abuse - let's not pretend that euthanasia isn't going on already! We all know perfectly well that it is informally practiced throughout the country - by legalising it and regulating it, we can do far more to iron out any alleged abuses than we can while it remains beyond the law.
Pro-life groups, more like pro-suffering. A dog would be looked upon with more kindness than Mrs Pretty received. I'm disgusted, don't even try and call yourselves humane.
Yes! It's okay to illegally (in my opinion) kill animals, but humans who wish to die cannot? The woman died and she died the way she least wanted. All faith in the British judicial system in their family I am sure is lost.
Shame on them!
Diane Pretty: e-mail us
19 Mar 02 | Health
Q&A: European Court of Human Rights
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