More MS news articles for Oct 2001

British Woman Loses Right to Die in Landmark Case

Thursday October 18 10:16 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - A terminally ill British woman lost a landmark court battle on Thursday to "die with dignity" but promptly said she would appeal the ruling, which is a major blow to supporters of euthanasia.

Mother-of-two Diane Pretty, 42, who has motor neurone disease, had wanted her husband Brian to be immune from prosecution if he helped her commit suicide.

"She wants to fight so she wants to take it further. I think she will be going to the House of Lords. She...told me this minute," Brian said outside court, translating for his wife who can barely speak but was at his side in a wheelchair.

"She is disappointed. Angry. She is feeling angry. But it is only expected because she feels she has got a right to do what she feels is right," he added.

In a test case that underscores Britain's long-standing legal block on euthanasia, three High Court judges dismissed Pretty's case and denied her permission to appeal their ruling except to the House of Lords.

"Having regard to the fact that we have said that the conclusion we have reached is inescapable, we do not think it appropriate to give permission to appeal," Lord Justice Simon Tuckey said.

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

But Lord Justice Tuckey said her human right was "to live with dignity, not die with dignity."


During a hearing earlier this month, Philip Havers QC, representing the Prettys, told the court that to deny Pretty the right to die with dignity was a violation of her rights.

But in giving his ruling, Lord Justice Tuckey said the law gave greater priority to the right to life than the right for a person to do what they liked with their own body.

"English law curtails a person's right to bodily autonomy in the interests of protecting that person's life even against her own wishes," he said. "Thus deliberate killing, even with consent and in the most pitiable of circumstances, is murder."

Pro-life groups and the Catholic Church hailed the ruling.

"We welcome the decision, which has been made for the right reasons," Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said in a statement.

"The court...has rightly upheld the law prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is there not least to protect the weak and especially vulnerable older people. It is right to alleviate suffering; it is wrong intentionally to kill," Catholic Bishop Peter Smith said.

Pretty is paralysed from the neck down and is too disabled to kill herself. Helping a person commit suicide carries a maximum 14-year jail term.

Pretty, diagnosed as suffering from motor neurone disease in 1999, lives with her husband, daughter and granddaughter.

Her disease is now at an advanced stage and she has to be fed through a tube. Her intellect and decision-making capacity are unimpaired.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited