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British Court Rules Against Euthanasia - 2001-10-18


In a landmark case, a British court has ruled that a terminally ill woman cannot be aided in taking her own life.

Suicide is not illegal in Britain, but a British court says assisting someone in doing so is against the law.

In an important euthanasia case in Britain, a three-judge panel ruled that Diane Pretty, a terminally ill 42-year-old woman cannot take her own life with the assistance of her husband. If he were to do so, he would be prosecuted under current statutes and could face up to 14 years in prison.

Mrs. Pretty suffers from motor neurone disease, an incurable and progressive illness that is gradually taking away her ability to move and communicate.

She is wheelchair-bound and paralyzed from the neck down. But her mind and decision-making ability are not impaired.

In her advanced state of illness, Mrs. Pretty is unable to take her own life even if she wants to and her fight at the British court was to secure the right to die with dignity.

The judges ruled, however, that the laws in Britain are designed only to preserve life with dignity, hence, her request was rejected.

It is a major blow for pro-euthanasia proponents here, like Deborah Annett. "There are loads of other Dianes," she said. "We get phone calls all the time from other MND sufferers who want a change in the laws so that they can die with dignity."

But anti-euthanasia campaigners, like Allison Davis say the British judges came through with the right decision. "I have spina bifida, osteoporosis, and emphysema, and because of that if I requested death, I am the sort of person that would be taken at their word and killed," she said. "And if the Diane Pretty case had been in place then, I would not be here now."

But Diane Pretty's legal team plans to launch an appeal to the country's highest court, the House of Lords. Mona Arshi is one of her lawyers. "We will be arguing that this court did not get the law right," said Ms. Arshi. "What the court seems to have done is decided that her rights under the Human Rights Act, including her right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and her right to determine what happens to her own body are trumped over all other societal considerations. And we just do not think that is the correct approach in law."

Mrs. Pretty's team is confident that an appeal will be heard by the British House of Lords and they feel that given her current state of health, it could be granted as early as next month.

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