Woman's Death Could Strengthen UK Euthanasia Lobby
Mon May 13, 1:29 PM ET
By Ed Cropley

LONDON (Reuters) - The death of "right to die" British woman Diane Pretty ends her battle to be allowed to be killed, but the horrific way she died could turn her into a martyr for a strengthened pro-euthanasia campaign.

Paralysed, incontinent and left unable to speak in the final months of her life by motor neurone disease, Pretty inspired sympathy and pity during a lengthy quest for her husband to be given immunity from punishment if he helped her commit suicide.

She finally lost her fight to "die with dignity" in the highest court in Europe at the end of last month--and 2 weeks later suffered the painful and undignified fate she had sought to avoid.

Pretty, a 43-year-old mother of two, paralysed from the neck down by the debilitating muscle disorder, died on Saturday afternoon after suffering breathing difficulties and then slipping into a coma last week, her family said.

Her husband Brian, who has campaigned tirelessly at her side, said Diane was "free at last" but his comments, in a statement released by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) on Sunday, were tinged with anger.

"Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of going through and there was nothing I could do to help," he said.

The Netherlands is alone in Europe for having legalised mercy killing for the hopelessly ill who are desperate to die, but Belgium, France and some Scandanavian countries are all mulling a move towards the Dutch approach.

Pretty's tragedy has merely highlighted the gulf in attitudes between continental Europe and Britain, where assisting a suicide remains a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners said they sympathised with Pretty's anguish, but were adamant it should not cause a knee-jerk relaxing of the law.

"Everybody has sympathy for her. She has had very worrying and very, very unpleasant time, but we still say that it is very dangerous to give someone else permission to kill someone," said Jennifer Murray from the Anti-Euthanasia Group.

But the full horror of Pretty's plight, captured on a BBC Panorama documentary in the last 6 weeks of her life, is unlikely to sway many towards the pro-life cause.

The BBC considered pulling the documentary scheduled for Sunday night out of respect for the family, but went ahead with the screening after Brian Pretty said he wanted it "to show the life Diane had to endure."

VES, who helped Pretty launch a petition for a change in British law on the issue, believe the weight of public opinion is behind them, citing polls which suggest 85% of Britons think humans should be able to chose when they can die.

"What we need to do is ensure that that petition lives on after her death," VES director Deborah Annetts told Sky News. "The more people that sign it in memory of her, the more chance there is of the law being changed."