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Web petition in right-to-die case

Pretty is paralysed from the neck down
Pretty is paralysed from the neck down  

LONDON, England -- A terminally ill woman has launched a Web site petition to change UK law on assisted suicide after losing a legal battle for her husband to help her die.

Diane Pretty's plea came after the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Monday that Brian Pretty would not be protected from prosecution if he helped his wife commit suicide.

"The law has taken all my rights away," she told a news conference, using a keyboard and computer voice synthesizer.

Now the 43-year-old mother of two, who is paralysed from the neck down, and her husband have opened a petition on a Web site (

Do you agree with the European Court of Human Rights decision in the UK right-to-die case of Diane Pretty?

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Suicide is legal in England, but helping someone else kill themselves is a crime under the 1961 Suicide Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The Strasbourg judges said the fact that assisted suicide was a crime in England was not a breach of Pretty's human rights.

The European court ruling was her last hope of a legal seal of approval to what she sees as her right to die with dignity.

Pretty, who has had motor neurone disease since 1999 and is confined to a wheelchair, took her fight to the European court after losing her battle in the UK.

Her disease is at an advanced stage, leaving her unable to speak and having to be fed through a tube. Her intellect and decision-making capacity are unimpaired.

She faces death soon from respiratory failure and pneumonia when her breathing muscles become affected by the disease.

She writes on her Web site: "If I were physically able I could take my own life. That's not illegal.

"But because of the terrible nature of my illness I cannot take my own life -- to carry out my wish I will need assistance. Should a doctor give me the assistance I need, he or she will be guilty of a crime that carries a lengthy prison sentence. As the law stands it makes no sense.

"The law needs changing so that I, and people like me, can choose how and when we die and not be forced to endure untold suffering for no reason."

Brian Pretty told Monday's news conference his wife was "disappointed but coping fairly well." He added: "It's probably later on when she sits down for a time to think about it she will probably be very upset."

Asked about the judgment, he said: "I'm pleased in one respect because it means I will have my wife with me for a little bit longer. But I am very saddened because the one thing she wants to have is the chance to die at the time of her choosing.

"That has been denied to her and that is not right. We should all have the choice of what we want to do with our lives, even if it's that."

Last October, the High Court ruled that Brian Pretty could not be guaranteed immunity from prosecution. Britain's highest court of appeal, the House of Lords, upheld that ruling in November.

Diane Pretty's lawyers had argued that the British ruling violated her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights by forcing her to undergo "degrading treatment or punishment."

At a previous hearing British government lawyer Jonathan Crow expressed sympathy for the "tragic circumstances" of the case but said the law was clear.

"A simple and clear-cut distinction has been drawn," he said. "Domestic law simply does not allow one person to intervene deliberately to bring about another person's death."


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