Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

European Court of Human Rights: Case of Pretty V. the United Kingdom

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

European Court of Human Rights: Case of Pretty V. the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of: Mr M. Pellonpaa, President, Sir Nicolas Bratza, Mrs E. Palm, Mr J. Makarczyk, Mr M. Fischbach, MrJ. Casadevall, Mr S. Pavlovschi,judges, and Mr M. O'Boyle, Section Registrar, Having deliberated in private on 19 March and 25 April 2002, delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date:


1. The case originated in an application (no. 2346/02) against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") by a United Kingdom national, Mrs Diane Pretty ("the applicant"), on 21 December 2001.

2. The applicant, who had been granted legal aid, was represented before the Court by Ms Chakrabarti, a lawyer practising in London. The United Kingdom Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr Whomersley of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.

3. The applicant, who is paralysed and suffering from a degenerative and incurable illness, alleged that the refusal of the Director of Public Prosecutions to grant an immunity from prosecution to her husband if he assisted her in committing suicide and the prohibition in domestic law on assisting suicide infringed her rights under Articles 2, 3, 8, 9 and 14 of the Convention.

4. The application was allocated to the Fourth Section of the Court (Rule 52 section 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 section 1 of the Convention), was constituted as provided in Rule 26 section1 of the Rules of Court.

5. The applicant and the Government each filed observations on the admissibility and merits (Rule 54 section 3(b)). In addition, third-party comments were received from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales which had been given leave by the President to intervene in the written procedure (Article 36 section 2 of the Convention and Rule 61 section 3). The applicant replied to those comments (Rule 61 section 5).

6. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 19 March 2002 (Rule 59 section 2). There appeared before the Court: (a) for the Government Mr C. Whomersley, Agent, Mr J. Crow, Counsel, Mr D. Perry, Counsel, Mr A. Bacarese, Ms R. Cox, Advisers; (b) for the applicant Mr P Havers, qc, Counsel, Ms E Morris, Counsel, Mr A. Gask, Trainee solicitor, Mrs D. Pretty, Applicant, Mr B. Pretty, Applicant's husband.

The Court heard addresses by Mr Crow and Mr Havers.



7. The applicant is a 43-year-old woman. She resides with her husband of 25 years, their daughter and granddaughter. The applicant suffers from motor neurone disease ("MND"). This is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease of motor cells within the central nervous system. The disease is associated with progressive muscle weakness affecting the voluntary muscles of the body. As a result of the progression of the disease, severe weakness of the arms and legs and the muscles involved in the control of breathing are affected. Death usually occurs as a result of weakness of the breathing muscles, in association with weakness of the muscles controlling speaking and swallowing, leading to respiratory failure and pneumonia. No treatment can prevent the progression of the disease.

8. The applicant's condition has deteriorated rapidly since MND was diagnosed in November 1999. The disease is now at an advanced stage. She is essentially paralysed from the neck downwards, she has virtually no decipherable speech and she is fed by a tube. Her life expectancy is very poor, measurable only in weeks or months. However her intellect and capacity to make decisions are unimpaired. The final stages of the disease are exceedingly distressing and undignified. …

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