Diane had the neurological terminal illness Motor Neurone Disease, and wanted the choice of an assisted death should her suffering become unbearable. She brought a court case that ended in defeat at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR concluded that she did not have a ‘right to die’ under the European Convention of Human Rights. One month after her case was lost she died, with her husband Brian (in video, above) by her side.
Her legal case may have been defeated, but Diane left an important legacy. She reignited the public debate on whether the law should allow dying people to choose an assisted death. In doing so she laid the foundations for successes to come, including the 2005 Mental Capacity Act which formally recognised the right of patients to refuse treatment in advance of a loss of capacity, and Debbie Purdy’s legal case that resulted in the Director of Public Prosecution’s clarification of the law on assisted suicide.
The campaign still has some way to go, but in time we will help create a society that provides both universal access to good quality end-of-life care and the choice of an assisted death, within safeguards; a society that strives to do all that is possible to minimise suffering in the last days and weeks of life. When that time comes the victory will belong to Diane and many others who had the courage to challenge the status quo and argue for change.