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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Head-to-head: Assisted suicide
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the final stage of a legal appeal from a woman who wants the "right to die".

Diane Pretty wants the UK government to guarantee immunity from prosecution for her husband Brian should he help her commit suicide.

Tamora Langley from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society explains why they are supporting Mrs Pretty while Dr Richard Lamerton, medical director of the Hospice Of The Valleys in south Wales and a campaigner against euthanasia, argues there is a risk of setting a dangerous precedent.

Why I support Diane Pretty's right to die

By Tamora Langley

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Diane Pretty's case is all about one courageous woman's fight to be able to make her own decision about when and how she dies. Although wholly mentally capable, her physical deterioration means that she will need somebody to assist her in her final choice.

As a law-abiding woman Diane has the integrity to make public her request to die at home, surrounded by her family.

Diane says that she finds her quality of life unbearable, and I think she is the only person who can make that judgement.

She has exhausted all medical alternatives and has accessed palliative care services.

However, knowing the inevitable progression of her disease, and the further distress it will cause her, she has decided that she wants to die now.

Euthanasia pioneers
In 1996 Australia's Northern Territory passed legislation to allow voluntary euthanasia. Four people took advantage of the law before the federal government overturned it in 1998.
In 1984 the Dutch Supreme Court declared that voluntary euthanasia was acceptable if doctors had adhered to ten criteria.
In April 1999 Dr Jack Kevorkian, an exponent of euthanasia nicknamed Dr Death, was jailed for up to 25 years for assisting the suicides of up to 130 people in Michigan, United States.
In 1985 a British doctor was acquitted of attempted murder following the death of a severely ill Down's Syndrome baby. The jury decided it was not "positive euthanasia".
Human Rights organisation Liberty are bringing this case, because it centres on fundamental human rights issues which affect everyone.

Firstly there is the absolute right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3), and secondly the right to personal autonomy over our own bodies (Article 8).

According to surveys many of the British public support Diane in her fight. Presumably they feel that if it were them, they would like the choice to be their own.

This is a very personal matter for Diane, although she has the support of her family the decision is hers alone.

In the exceptionally terrible circumstances she finds herself in, I hope the Court will decide in her favour and grant her this last request.

She doesn't have enough time left to wait for Parliament to catch up with public opinion.

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Why assisted suicide is wrong

By Dr Richard Lamerton

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If you give someone rights, it means someone else has duty. A right to die means someone has a duty to kill.

If doctors do this, as in Holland, they would lose their patients' trust.

As the habit of killing catches on, the voluntary element is lost. Patients in Holland are having to carry cards saying: "Please, doctor, DON'T kill me."

The ways open to doctors for killing are not always effective. To be paralysed but still conscious, or not to die as expected, is a distinct risk - all drugs sometimes fail.

When the question was being debated in the House of Lords a Dutch doctor was asked: "What do you do when the patient doesn't die first time?"

The gruesome details in the reply were a major factor in deciding the committee against euthanasia. Don't be dazzled by the words "death with dignity".

What would be much kinder, quicker and surer would be a bullet in the head. Doctors should be left out of this altogether.

If we make it legal to kill her, some very dangerous consequences would follow.

Dr Richard Lamerton
Policemen could do the kllings, or undertakers, or social workers.

I have considerable sympathy for Mrs Pretty - motor neurone disease is awful.

But having looked after dozens of people with the condition, I would hate to endorse Mrs Pretty's message of despair.

Some patients despair, but most do not.

Most find new depths in relationships, new meanings in life, and enough reasons to go on living.

But they do need skilled care. I hope Mrs Pretty is getting help from a good hospice with experience in this kind of care.

But if we make it legal to kill her, some very dangerous consequences would follow.

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