More MS news articles for May 2002

British Assisted Suicide Campaigner Dies

Sun, May. 12, 2002

LONDON - (Reuters) - Diane Pretty, a terminally ill woman who fought an unsuccessful legal battle in the British and European courts to be allowed to end her life with her husband's help, has died, her supporters said Sunday.

Pretty, a motor neuron disease sufferer who was paralyzed from the neck down, died Saturday afternoon at a hospice in central England which helped care for her. She was 43.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society said in a statement her husband, Brian, who had campaigned tirelessly to be allowed to help his wife die with dignity, was at her bedside for her final moments.

"I was with Diane most of the day, and was about to go home when I was stopped and told it was time, and then for Diane it was over, free at last," Brian Pretty said in the statement.

Pretty said his wife, whose fate fueled a heated debate in Europe on the ethics on euthanasia, had been taken into the hospice on May 3 after suffering breathing difficulties -- a symptom common to extreme sufferers of the degenerative disease.

Her condition continued to deteriorate, and a week later she slipped into a coma from which she never regained consciousness.

"The doctors and nurses managed to get her stable for a few days but she was still in pain," Pretty said. "They had trouble getting her comfortable and pain-free until Thursday evening, after which she started to slip into a coma-like state and eventually died."


Described as "incredibly courageous" by friends, Pretty took the fight for her husband to be given immunity from punishment if he helped her die to the highest legal level -- the European Court of Human Rights.

But her hopes of ending her life painlessly were dashed when the seven Strasbourg judges agreed with the earlier views of British courts and rejected her pleas on April 29.

Ironically, the ruling came on the same day as news of the death of a second British woman, known as "Miss B," who died after winning the legal right to end her own life.

The case of "Miss B," who was also paralyzed from the neck down, was different from Pretty's in that she was kept alive by a life support machine but was ruled as having the necessary mental capacity to ask for the system to be switched off.

Wheelchair-bound Pretty's paralysis made suicide impossible, and so her husband would have had to take active steps to kill her -- exposing him to up to 14 years in jail for assisting a suicide.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners said they sympathized with Pretty's suffering but said it should not presage a change in the law.

"Everybody has sympathy for her. She has had a very worrying and very, very unpleasant time, but we still say that it is very dangerous to give someone else permission to kill someone," said Jennifer Murray from the Anti-Euthanasia Group.

Copyright 2002,