Judge rules right-to-die case must be heard

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The Independent Online

Diane Pretty sat in her wheelchair at the front of the High Court and burst into tears as a judge ruled in her favour after listening to what he described as her "tragic" case.

Stricken by motor neurone disease to the degree that she cannot move except to type text messages on a special machine, Mrs Pretty, 42, is fighting a legal battle for the right to be helped to die.

Mr Justice Silber ruled on Friday that her case was sufficiently compelling to warrant being judicially reviewed at a full hearing, which may take place later this month.

The judge said: "It appears desirable to me that this matter should come on for a full hearing as soon as possible so the interesting and far-reaching submissions that have been made by counsel can finally be adjudicated."

Philip Havers, the leading QC who represented Mrs Pretty without a fee after she was refused legal aid, had told the judge that his client was suffering from a "terrible" wasting disease. She was, in effect, paralysed from the neck down and used the little power she had in her arm to communicate by using a machine on her wheelchair which printed out messages.

It was inevitable that she would die from the disease, which usually came from respiratory failure brought on by wasting of muscles, Mr Havers said. "She is anxious to avoid the stress and indignity she will have to endure if the disease is allowed to run its course.

"She cannot do that which she would wish today ­ to take her own life she needs the physical assistance of another to achieve that objective, and her wish is for her husband to assist her."

Mr Havers said that although Mrs Pretty had no movement in her limbs and had to be fed by tube, she still had all her intellectual abilities and her capacity to make decisions was unimpaired.

"The claimant is frightened and distressed at the prospect of the death she will suffer as a result of [the disease]," he said.

"The claimant strongly wishes to maintain at least a vestigial control over her body and choose the moment and manner of her death, and be spared the misery and indignity that she will otherwise suffer if the disease continues its normal progression. But for her disorder she would be able lawfully to do so."

Mr Havers argued that the Human Rights Act paved the way for Mrs Pretty's husband, Brian, to help her die.

But for her disease, she would be able to enforce her rights, which guarantee that an individual is not subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

He said the Suicide Act 1961, which prohibits assisted suicides, discriminated against her because it stopped her enjoying her rights.

Mrs Pretty, from Luton, Bedfordshire, is seeking an order quashing a decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), David Calvert-Smith, not to give her husband immunity from being criminally charged with aiding her death.

She wants a declaration that the decision was unlawful and an order forcing the DPP to give the undertaking that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her suicide.

David Perry, counsel for the DPP, said the application was "misconceived". Although the DPP opposed the application he had "every possible sympathy with the claimant and her family", he said.

Mr Perry said: "The director has not said he will prosecute. The director has said that any decision to prosecute will be taken in accordance with the law and that is a fundamental distinction."