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Terminally Ill Woman Wins 1st Round

August 31, 2001

LONDON (AP) _ The government is violating a terminally ill woman’s rights by refusing to let her husband help her die, her lawyer said Friday in a case that poses a historic challenge to a law barring euthanasia in Britain.

Diane Pretty, 42, who suffers from motor neuron disease, is challenging a refusal by Britain’s director of public prosecutions to rule out prosecuting her husband if he helps her commit suicide.

On Friday, a judge at London’s High Court ruled that Pretty can apply for a judicial review of the decision _ a ruling that prompted an outcry from euthanasia opponents but applause from advocates of assisted suicide.

``This is an important day for not just for Diane but for the British public, who have given overwhelming support to her and her right to choose when and how she dies,″ said Deborah Annetts, director of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Pretty, who burst into tears as Judge Stephen Silber announced his decision, is confined to a wheelchair and only has limited movement in her arms, said her lawyer, Philip Havers. She wishes to take her own life, he said.

``She is anxious to avoid the stress and indignity she will have to endure if the disease is allowed to run its course,″ Havers, told the court.

However, ``she needs the physical assistance of another to achieve that objective, and her wish is for her husband to assist her,″ he said.

Pretty’s lawyers argue that Britain’s 1961 Suicide Act, which prohibits aiding or abetting a suicide, prevents her from exercising her right, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. They also say it violates her right to respect for private and family life.

Under British law, those who assist suicides can be charged with manslaughter or murder. On Aug. 8, the director of public prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, said he could not guarantee that Brian Pretty would not be prosecuted if he helped his wife commit suicide.

He said his wife had made up her mind to die.

``This is all her decision. I have no say in the matter at all,″ Brian Pretty said after the hearing.

``What she is fighting for is the right to choose when she wants to die.″

Voluntary Euthanasia Society director Deborah Annetts said later that Pretty was ``fighting not just for herself but for others who come after her.″

But Michael Howitt Wilson, leader of a group called Against Legalized Euthanasia _ Research and Teaching, called Friday’s ruling ``a pity.″

``Diane Pretty feels there is no value to her life and that she’s better off dead,″ he said. ``Well, that was the argument the Nazis used about people. But every life is valuable.″

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