Marie Fleming appeal on assisted suicide rejected

Former lecturer’s appeal to Supreme Court turned down after High Court challenge lost

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 12:37

Terminally ill multiple sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming has lost her landmark court challenge to the blanket ban on assisted suicide.

The right to life under the Constitution “does not import a right to die” in this “very tragic case” , the Supreme Court ruled.

While suicide is no longer a crime here, that does not mean there is a constitutional right to suicide, the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, said. There is “no explicit right to commit suicide, or to determine the time of one’s own death”, in the Constitution.

There was, accordingly, no constitutional right which the State, including the courts, must protect and vindicate, either to commit suicide or to arrange for the termination of one’s own life at a time of one’s choosing.

The principle of equal treatment also does not confer on Ms Fleming, as a disabled person, the right to be assisted in taking her own life, the court ruled.

The Chief Justice stressed nothing in the court’s judgment “should be taken as necessarily implying it would not be open to the State, in the event the Oireachtas were satisfied that measures with appropriate safeguards could be introduced, to deal with a case such as that of Ms Fleming’s”.

Claims dismissed

Dismissing other claims the absolute ban on assisted suicide breaches Ms Fleming’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, she said the European court has ruled it was primarily for states to assess the risk of abuse if the general ban on assisted suicide was relaxed or if exceptions were to be created.

The complex issue of assisted suicide has been assessed here, and the legislature had legislated by enacting the absolute ban, she said. The court would, consequently, dismiss the claim the ban was incompatible.

She was giving the seven-judge court’s ruling today dismissing the appeal by 59-year-old Ms Fleming, who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, to the High Court’s refusal to grant orders that would allow her be lawfully helped to end her life at a time of her choice.

Ms Fleming was not well enough to attend today’s brief court hearing. Her partner, Tom Curran, and other family members were in court.

Personal autonomy

Ms Fleming, living in Co Wicklow, had claimed the absolute ban on assisted suicide in Section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993, in her particular circumstances as a severely disabled person unable to take her own life unaided, disproportionately infringes her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

She claimed the ban is discriminatory in that an able-bodied person may take their own life lawfully, but she cannot be lawfully helped to do the same.

Ms Fleming had not appealed against the High Court’s refusal to direct the DPP to issue guidelines as to what factors would be taken into account in considering whether to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.

Last January, the High Court ruled the absolute ban is fully justified under the Constitution to protect the most vulnerable in society, and cannot be diluted even in the “harrowing” case of Ms Fleming.

However, the court said it was “sure” the DPP would act in a “humane and sensitive” way in considering whether or not to prosecute any assisted suicide of Ms Fleming.