Woman wins initial victory in right-to-die battle

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The Independent Online

A terminally-ill woman today won the first round of a legal battle to establish that her husband should have the right to help her die.

Diane Pretty, 42, was granted permission by a High Court judge to challenge a refusal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith, to rule out taking action against her husband of 25 years, Brian, if he helps her take her own life.

Mr Justice Silber, sitting in London, said he wanted the full hearing to be held as soon as possible.

Mrs Pretty, from Luton, Bedfordshire, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease - which is untreatable - in 1999, and is now confined to a wheelchair.

She burst into tears as the judge announced his decision.

Mr Justice Silber granted Mrs Pretty permission to apply for judicial review of the DPP's decision, given in a letter on August 8, refusing to give an undertaking not to prosecute Mr Pretty if he assists her commit suicide.

Giving his ruling today the judge described the facts of the case as "tragic".

He said his function at today's proceedings was to see if Mrs Pretty's application should proceed to a full hearing.

"I can only do that if I am satisfied that there is an arguable case. I have had the benefit not only of oral submissions but written submissions.

"Having considered these submissions I come to the conclusion that the claim of this claimant does reach the threshold which would enable permission to be granted."

Earlier, Mrs Pretty's counsel, Philip Havers QC, told the judge about the plight of the mother-of-two, who is suffering from a "terrible" wasting disease.

She sat at the front of the courtroom in her wheelchair next to her husband, and listened as Mr Havers opened her case.

Mr Havers said Mrs Pretty's condition was already at an advanced stage.

She was effectively paralysed in both legs, and she used the little power she had in her arm to communicate by using a machine on her wheelchair which printed out text messages.

It was inevitable that she would eventually die from the disease, usually from respiratory failure brought on by wasting of muscles, he said.

"This is a terrible disease and she has deteriorated rapidly since last year since when she has been confined to a wheelchair," Mr Havers said.