Appeal likely on assisted suicide ruling
A terminally ill woman is expected to appeal against the High Court’s unanimous rejection of her landmark bid to be lawfully permitted to be helped take her own life.
The three-judge High Court was “sure” the Director of Public Prosecutions would adopt a humane and sensitive approach to Marie Fleming’s plight.
The absolute ban on assisted suicide does not disproportionately infringe Ms Fleming’s personal rights under the Constitution and is wholly justified in the public interest to protect vulnerable people, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said.
Dilution of the ban could open a “Pandora’s box” impossible to close afterwards, with the risks of abuse “all too real”. The court had heard “deeply worrying” evidence from doctors that there would be “a paradigm shift” with “unforeseeable and perhaps uncontrollable” changes in attitude and behaviour regarding assisted suicide.
Even with the most rigorous safeguards it “would be impossible to ensure the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of this option in order to avoid a sense of being a burden on their family and society”.
Other concerns were “deeply worrying” evidence of “a strikingly high” increase in involuntary deaths in countries where assisted suicide is legal.
He said the court, comprising himself, Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, was “sure” the DPP, knowing the “appalling” plight of Ms Fleming (59), who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, would adopt a “humane and sensitive” approach.
Ms Fleming’s solicitors wrote to the DPP last August asking her to set out the factors she would consider in deciding whether to prosecute for assisted suicide. The High Court agreed with the DPP she cannot set out guidelines as that would involve her legislating when the Constitution stipulates making law is solely for the Oireachtas.
However, it said a “different set of affairs” might arise after any event of assisted suicide and provided there was evidence of compliance with guidelines set out by the UK DPP in assisted suicide cases. In those circumstances the DPP was free to exercise her discretion.
The court awarded Ms Fleming her costs against the State.
In a statement afterwards, Ms Fleming said she was “deeply disappointed and saddened” at the outcome.
The Supreme Court is likely to facilitate an urgent hearing, possibly within weeks, of any appeal by Ms Fleming. Legal sources anticipate an appeal is almost certain.