More MS news articles for Mar 2002

Right-to-Die Case to Open in European Court

Mar 15, 2002

LONDON (Reuters) - A terminally ill British woman who wants to commit suicide with her husband's help takes her case to the European Court of Human Rights next week.

Diane Pretty, 43, who is paralysed from the neck down and physically unable to kill herself, wants her husband Brian to be immune from prosecution if he helps her die.

The mother of two, who has motor neurone disease, Pretty took her "right-to-die" case to Europe after losing an appeal to Britain's highest appeal court, the House of Lords, last November.

"She has been looking forward to taking the case on to the next stage," a spokesman for UK human rights group Liberty, which is backing the Prettys, told Reuters on Friday. "She was absolutely clear after the House of Lords verdict that she wanted to take the case to Europe."

Liberty said next Tuesday's hearing in Strasbourg, eastern France, is due to last less than 3 hours, but a ruling is not expected for weeks.

Barrister Philip Havers QC told the House of Lords last November that Pretty faces death from respiratory failure and pneumonia.

Pretty's lawyers will argue that the UK courts' refusal to free Brian Pretty from the fear of legal action if he helps his wife die infringes upon the couple's rights under five articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Helping a suicide is illegal under English law and carries a maximum 14-year jail term. In the November hearing, five members of the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of parliament and the country's highest court, rejected Pretty's final appeal under domestic law.

They determined the Director of Public Prosecutions had no power to rule out a prosecution of her husband in advance and that her human rights were not being infringed.

"I have fought this disease every step. If I am allowed to decide when and how I die, I will feel that I have wrested some autonomy back," Pretty said before the law lords' decision. The case has fueled the long-running debate in Britain over euthanasia, assisted suicide and people's right to choose when they die.

In a separate case, a British woman paralysed from the neck down and unable to breathe or move unaided, is asking the courts to allow her to die. The 51-year-old woman, who cannot be named, is believed to be the first woman in Britain to seek court approval for her life support machine to be switched off.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd