Diane Pretty's message was clear: 'The law has taken all my rights away'

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The Independent Online

In just two years Diane Pretty has lost all her capacity for decipherable speech. But yesterday the message from the electronic voice synthesiser mounted on her wheelchair could not have been clearer: "The law has taken all my rights away," said the former cook who now requires feeding through a tube.

Diane and Brian Pretty and their two children were an ordinary family until Mrs Pretty was struck down with motor neurone disease and they embarked on their remarkable quest to change the law on suicide.

But yesterday the couple, who had been married for 25 years, declared they had come to the end of the road.

The unanimous decision of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights had deprived them of all practical means of fighting the law.

They would not, said Mr Pretty, be asking the grand Chamber of European Court to reconsider the judgment. Instead Mr Pretty said he would be spending the last few months at his wife's "beck and call" until she finally succumbs to her terminal illness.

"Diane has never regretted taking it on.

"It's taken its toll on me, but Diane has never regretted doing it," said Mr Pretty.

He urged the public to sign a petition that he hoped would put pressure on the Government to change the law.

Mrs Pretty, 43, began her battle for the right to have her husband help her commit suicide in August last year when her lawyers wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) requesting a declaration that Mr Pretty would not face charges under the Suicide Act 1961. The DPP wrote back offering the couple his sympathies but said he was unable to licence the commission of a criminal offence.

In October Mr and Mrs Pretty took their fight to the High Court, where they challenged the DPP's decision. But the judges ruled that the country was not ready for assisted suicide.

At an emergency hearing at the House of Lords their counsel, Philip Havers QC, said: "She is profoundly frightened by the thought of the distressing and undignified death she will inevitably have to endure. She very strongly wishes to control how and when she dies.

"But for her disorder she would be able to do so by lawfully committing suicide. The terrible irony of the case is that the disorder which causes her so much suffering also prevents her from doing so."

But the couple were again told by the court that the right to die was not a corollary of the right to live.

In the lead judgment, Lord Bingham described the question of whether the terminally ill should be free to seek help in taking their own lives as being of great social, ethical and religious significance. But the purpose of the House of Lords appeal committee was not to weigh the differing views and give its own verdict, but to apply the law of the land.

Last month the couple travelled to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg so that the judges could have the chance to see assess them in person.

But yesterday the couple could not hide their disappointment at the European judgement. The judges said they could not but be sympathetic to the Mrs Pretty's fear that without the possibility of ending her life she faced the prospect of a distressing death.

But they added: "Nonetheless, the positive obligation on the part of the State which has been invoked (Mrs Pretty's claim that the Government was obliged to prevent the inhuman and degrading effects of her disease) would require that the State sanction actions intended to terminate life."

Nor, said the judges, was there any complaint that Mrs Pretty was not receiving adequate care.

Mr Pretty said that, unlike Miss B, refusing medication would not help his wife because the drugs she is taking control her pain rather than keep the disease in check.

In one respect Mr Pretty was happy with the judgment: "It means I will have my wife with me for a little bit longer."