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British Woman Wins First Round In Euthanasia Case - 2001-08-31

A paralyzed British woman has won the first round in a court battle to allow her husband to legally assist her suicide. The case has sparked controversy between opponents and supporters of euthanasia.

Diane Pretty is a 42 year-old British woman who is terminally ill with a nerve disease that has left her paralyzed.

She wants to commit suicide, but she is physically unable to do so. Therefore, Mrs. Pretty wants her husband Brian to assist her suicide. However, prosecutors have told the couple Mr. Pretty could face criminal charges if he helps her die.

Against that backdrop, the Prettys went to London High Court on Friday to seek judicial relief.

Judge Stephen Silber granted Mrs. Pretty an initial victory, saying a full court review should decide if Mr. Pretty can be exempted from prosecution.

Mrs. Pretty, sitting in her wheelchair, burst into tears upon hearing Judge Silber's decision.

Outside the court, supporters of assisted suicide hailed the ruling, while opponents of euthanasia decried it.

Paul Tully leads a campaign against abortion and euthanasia. He fears that if Britain establishes the right to die, pressure will mount on the terminally ill to commit suicide. "What they are trying to achieve could affect thousands of other people who are entirely dependent on others for their care - people who are very elderly, with degenerative diseases," he said. "There are many, many people around the country who are suffering in this kind of way."

Deborah Annetts represents the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which supports the Pretty's court battle. She says the eventual goal is to get Britain to legalize assisted suicide. "This is about an individual, Diane, making a decision about when she's had enough suffering," she said. "What we would say is, if this goes all the way through for a full hearing and we are successful for that full hearing, we would ask the government to put in place legislation with appropriate safeguards as the Dutch have."

The debate will resume at the next court hearing, expected in about one month.