More MS news articles for Nov 2001

UK's House of Lords to hear woman's suicide appeal

LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters Health) - A British woman who wants her husband to be immune from prosecution if he helps her commit suicide took her battle to the House of Lords on Wednesday.

Diane Pretty, 42, is paralysed from the neck down by advanced motor neurone disease that was diagnosed in 1999. Currently, her husband could face a jail term of up to 14 years if he helps her kill herself.

Motor neurone disease is an umbrella term for a group of progressive diseases involving weakness and wasting of muscles. The most common form is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. About 50% of people with ALS die within 3 years of the first symptoms although 10% live longer than 10 years.

In a test case that underscored Britain's long-standing legal block on euthanasia, three High Court judges earlier this month dismissed Pretty's case and denied her permission to appeal their ruling except to the House of Lords, which is the country's highest legal authority.

Lord Bingham, one of the four law lords who will hear the case, said, "We are conscious of the fact it raises issues with which the courts in this country have not had a previous occasion to deal."

Legal experts said that, given the circumstances of the case and Pretty's declining health, a very speedy ruling was expected. If her appeal is successful it could end Britain's total ban on euthanasia.

The Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia in April this year. Belgian senators last week voted in favor of a draft law setting conditions under which doctors could help patients die.

In the US, the state of Oregon has allowed physician-assisted suicide since 1997 and at least 70 people have killed themselves with lethal drugs since then. Oregon voters have approved the measure twice.

Pretty and her husband say the refusal to allow the assisted suicide infringes their human rights by subjecting her to degrading treatment and failing to respect her private life.

High Court judge Lord Justice Tuckey rejected the argument, saying the law gave greater priority to the right of life than the right of a person to do what he liked with his own body.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited