More MS news articles for April 2002

Right-to-die Briton loses final appeal

Apr 29, 2002

A terminally-ill British woman who wants to die with her husband's help lost the final round of her legal fight in a landmark decision at the European Court of Human Rights on Monday.

Diane Pretty, 43, who is paralysed and unable to kill herself, took her "right-to-die" case to Europe after her husband Brian was denied immunity from prosecution by Britain's highest court.

Seven judges at the European Court in Strasbourg, eastern France, ruled that Britain had violated none of her rights.

The mother of two, from Luton, Bedfordshire, has motor neurone disease, an incurable degenerative condition that will lead to her death from respiratory failure within months.

Her lawyers argued that British courts' refusal to free Brian Pretty from the fear of legal action infringed the couple's rights under five articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Helping in a suicide is illegal under English law and carries a maximum 14-year jail term.

The case fuelled the long-running debate over euthanasia and divided legal and moral opinion.

Liberty, the human rights group which backed the Prettys, called on the British government to reform the laws governing assisted suicide.

"We are disappointed that Diane has lost her case," Liberty spokesman Roger Bingham told Reuters. "We believe that the government has the opportunity to remedy the defects in the current law which placed Diane and others in such a terrible trap."

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society, a British campaign group, backed calls for reform, saying existing laws were causing "terrible human tragedy."

"Since Diane's case started, thousands of terminally-ill people have had a bad death," the group's director Deborah Annetts said in a statement. "We call on Parliament to...put in place a proper law which gives people like Diane the right to choose a medically assisted death while ensuring that the vulnerable are protected."

The Medical Ethics Alliance, a British pro-life group, opposed the Prettys, saying a "right-to-die" ruling would have put many disabled and elderly people at risk.

In a separate case, Britain's High Court ruled in March that a paralysed woman who could only breathe through a ventilator was entitled to end her own life by refusing treatment. The 43-year-old social worker, known in court as "Miss B," said the hospital was acting unlawfully in continuing artificial ventilation without her consent.

Euthanasia became legal on April 1 in the Netherlands, the first country to permit mercy killing.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited