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Diane Pretty was an Englishwoman in her early 40s who had been married nearly a quarter of a century. In November 1999, she learned she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-in Britain, motor neurone disease. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and soon she was "essentially paralysed from the neck downwards." She had "virtually no decipherable speech" and was fed by a tube. She was expected to live only a few months or even weeks. AB a court later explained, however, "her intellect and capacity to make decisions are unimpaired. The final stages of the disease are exceedingly distressing and undignified. AB she is frightened and distressed at the suffering and indignity that she will endure if the disease runs its course, she very strongly wishes to be able to control how and when she dies and thereby be spared that suffering and indignity." Suicide is not a crime in Britain, but assisting suicide is. On 27 July 2001, Mrs. Pretty's solicitor wrote the Director of Public Prosecutions asking for an assurance that her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped his wife commit suicide. The DPP refused because it would not "grant immunities that condone, require, or purport to authorise or permit the future commission of any criminal offence, no matter how exceptional the circumstances."


Reprinted with the permission of the Hastings Center Report and Wiley-Blackwell.