More MS news articles for Nov 2001

British woman takes right-to-die case to top court

LONDON, Nov 01 (Reuters) - In a ruling that could lead to a change in Britain's ban on euthanasia, the House of Lords on Thursday agreed to hear a terminally ill woman's appeal to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

Diane Pretty, 42, who has motor neurone disease, wants her husband Brian to be immune from prosecution if he helps her kill herself.

Currently, if her husband of 25 years were to help her commit suicide he could face a jail term of up to 14 years.

Two weeks ago the High Court dismissed Pretty's case and denied her permission to appeal against the ruling except to the House of Lords, Britain's highest court.

The decision in the landmark case appeared to have underscored a long-standing legal block on euthanasia but on Thursday, three senior law lords granted Pretty permission to challenge it.

"We are conscious of the fact it raises issues with which the courts in this country have not had a previous occasion to deal," Lord Bingham said.

In April, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and other nations are now considering following suit.

Last week, Belgium moved closer to legalising so-called "mercy killing" when senators voted in favour of a draft law setting the conditions under which doctors could help patients to die.

Opinion polls in France have also indicated a favourable public attitude towards a change in the law.

Pretty, from Luton, near London, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1999. Her condition has deteriorated rapidly and she is now paralysed from the neck down.

Her case is expected to be heard in the Lords in the next 2 weeks as a matter of urgency because of her deteriorating condition.

The Prettys claim the refusal to allow the assisted suicide infringes their human rights by subjecting Diane to degrading treatment and by failing to respect her private life.

The argument was rejected by High Court judge Lord Justice Tuckey, who said the law gave greater priority to the right of life than the right for a person to do what they liked with their own body.

In Thursday's hearing, Jonathan Perry, for the director of public prosecutions, said there was no power to grant immunity for someone wishing to commit an act which would be a crime, nor could he give an undertaking that the director would be unlikely to prosecute if an assisted suicide was carried out.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited