Appeal lodged in assisted suicide case

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

A terminally ill woman has lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s unanimous rejection of her landmark attempt to be lawfully permitted to be helped take her life.

The appeal by 59-year-old Marie Fleming, who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, was lodged in the Supreme Court office yesterday afternoon and it is expected her lawyers will apply to the court today for an urgent hearing of the appeal.

Given the importance of the issues raised in the case, it is likely the appeal will be heard by a seven-judge Supreme Court.

Ms Fleming’s partner, Tom Curran, confirmed yesterday evening an appeal was being taken but said he would not comment further.

Last week, a three-judge High Court ruled 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.

Guidelines

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, sitting with Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, also ruled the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has no power to issue guidelines setting out what factors she would consider in deciding to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.

The court was “sure” the DPP would adopt a humane and sensitive approach to Ms Fleming’s plight, Mr Justice Kearns said.

The court also awarded costs to Ms Fleming on grounds the action raised issues of exceptional public interest and was brought on a bona fide basis. Ms Fleming was perhaps the most remarkable witness the three members of the court were privileged to encounter, Mr Justice Kearns said.

‘Pandora’s box’

In the High Court judgment, Mr Justice Kearns said dilution of the absolute ban could open a “Pandora’s box” impossible to close afterwards, with the risks of abuse “all too real”.

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 said the DPP cannot set out guidelines as that would involve her legislating, but it added that a “different set of affairs” might arise after any event of assisted suicide, provided there was evidence of compliance with guidelines set out by the UK DPP in cases of assisted suicide. In those circumstances, the DPP was free to exercise her discretion as she saw fit and the court was “sure” the DPP, “in this of all cases”, would exercise her discretion “in a humane and sensitive fashion”.