More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Diane Pretty: The fight continues

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_1682000/1682321.stm

Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 10:52 GMT

Diane Pretty is described by her supporters as "a tough lady" - but it remains to be seen how many further legal challenges she can endure.

Even in the months she has been in the public eye, her motor neurone disease has noticeably progressed.

The disease robs the patient of the ability to move muscles - including, eventually, those controlling speech and breathing.

Mrs Pretty already has an advanced illness, and at times, she found it difficult to even stay in the High Court to hear her future being debated there.

The 42-year-old wants to end her life - but because of the immobilising nature of motor neurone, despite the clarity of her thoughts, she lacks the capacity to perform the act.

This is what brings her into conflict with the law. Her husband, Brian, wants to help her die, but faces possible prosecution should he do so - with a maximum potential jail term of 14 years.

He told the BBC: "This is against the law at the moment and there is no way we are going to go against the law.

"So we will go to court. We shall fight in court and we will appeal if we lose because I want her to have her final wish."

Court charge

The Director of Public Prosecutions has not ruled out the possibility that he would take Mr Pretty to court on a charge of aiding and abetting a suicide under the Suicide Act 1961.

It is this lack of immunity from prosecution which Diane Pretty is challenging, and she is making the challenge on a number of grounds.

She is arguing to being required to go on living in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease is subjecting her to ill treatment contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998.

This states that "no-one shall be subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."

She also maintains that she has the right to "die with dignity" - as enshrined in human rights legislation.

Arguments rejected

At the High Court, however, Lord Justice Tuckey said that rejection of all these arguments was "inescapable".

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had no powers to give any undertaking of the type sought by Mrs Pretty, he said.

In addition, he said, the human rights arguments were not powerful enough to force the DPP to do this.

The purpose of human rights legislation, he said, was to protect life, he said, and Diane Pretty's case "turned that on its head".

Although the High Court refused her leave to appeal to the Law Lords, she appealed to them directly and won the right to make her case.

Now the Lords have agreed with the verdict from the lower court - unanimously.

At each stage of the legal process, failure limits Diane Pretty's options, but even after failure at the House of Lords, there is still one avenue left open - Europe.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg could hear this case, but Mrs Pretty's deteriorating health may rule this out.

Cases for this court take time to be prepared, and she does not have much of this to spare.

However, she has expressed her determination to bring the case to Strasbourg in person.