The first legal challenge to Britain's law on assisted suicide is to be made by a woman who is terminally ill with motor neurone disease.
Diane Pretty, 42, is bringing legal action under the Human Rights Act because the disease has so impaired her quality of life that she wants her husband to help her to die. But the Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to "aid, abet, counsel or procure a suicide".
The couple wrote to the Prime Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, requesting that Mr Pretty or a doctor would not be charged if they aided her death. Their pleas were rejected. They have now mounted a legal challenge to the Suicide Act, backed by the human rights group Liberty and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
Lawyers for Mrs Pretty, from Luton, Bedfordshire, will argue that the law breaches her rights under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act to not be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment, andArticle 8, which upholds the right of personal autonomy.
Mrs Pretty was too unwell yesterday to talk about her case. But in a statement given to her legal team, she said: "I want the court to know that I want the right to die at the time of my choosing, with dignity, now that I have lost all functions apart from my mind."
Around 5,000 people in the UK have motor neurone disease – the degeneration of the nerve cells along which the brain sends instructions to the muscles. There is no treatment, and sufferers usually die within five years of diagnosis.
Mrs Pretty's solicitor, Mona Arshi of Liberty, said: "This case is all about Mrs Pretty's right to live and die with dignity. It seems terribly unfair that Mr Pretty could be exposed to criminal liability simply for trying to carry out his wife's wish."
Mr Pretty, aged 45, a former delivery driver, has helped his wife to cope with the disease for the past three years. The couple had their silver wedding anniversary last month.
"Diane, my wife of 25 years, wants the right to die at home," he said, "at a time of her choosing surrounded by her friends and family. Although her condition deteriorates day by day, she has decided to challenge the law not just for herself but for others who follow her."
The couple's two children, who are in their twenties, have come to terms with Mrs Pretty's desire to die.
The Legal Services Commission has refused Mrs Pretty's application for legal aid.Reuse content