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British Euthanasia Ban Could Be Overturned - 2001-11-01


Britain's ban on euthanasia could be overturned, as the country's highest court agrees to hear arguments from a paralyzed woman who seeks assisted suicide.

A panel of three law lords agreed Thursday to grant an appeal to a 42-year-old woman who wants her husband to help her commit suicide.

Diane Pretty is terminally ill with motor neuron disease, which has left her paralyzed and wheel-chair bound. She wants a court to rule that if her husband, Dennis Pretty, helps her commit suicide, he will not face prosecution. As the law now stands, Mr. Pretty could go to jail for up to 14 years if he assists in his wife's suicide.

Britain's high court dismissed the Pretty case two weeks ago, but said she could appeal to the House of Lords, the country's highest court.

On Thursday, the three senior law lords agreed the Pretty appeal should go to the House of Lords. The ruling said Mrs. Pretty's situation raises issues that British courts have never dealt with before.

Because of her deteriorating physical condition, the House of Lords is expected to take up the case on an urgent basis within a few weeks.

The Pretty case is being watched closely elsewhere in Europe. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in April. In Belgium, legislation is advancing that would allow doctors to help patients die.

Anti-euthanasia groups in Britain hope the House of Lords will reject Mrs. Pretty's arguments. They say vulnerable people who are terminally ill could be coerced into assisted suicide if it become legal.

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