Law 'protects right to dignified death'
The entitlement to a dignified death is protected by the Constitution and the State has no right to tell people its interest in their lives or "some theory of natural law" overrides a person's absolute right to decide the course of their own lives, the High Court was told today.
Society’s interest in discouraging suicide does not justify the State’s blanket ban on assisted suicide in the case of a terminally ill woman who wants to die at a time of her choosing but is unable to take her own life, the High Court was told today.
The absolute ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional, unnecessary, unjustified, disproportionate and irreconcilable with the right of Marie Fleming to a dignified death in a manner and timing of her choice, Brian Murray SC argued.
In exchanges with the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who asked whether concerns about rising suicide rates were a factor to be considered, counsel agreed there is a societal interest in discouraging suicide but argued the State has failed to show how the interests of the common good qualify Ms Fleming’s rights.
Cases involving suicide pacts and mercy killings being relied on by the State are not relevant in the circumstances of Ms Fleming’s case, he submitted.
Strict safeguards and protocols had been introduced in other jurisdictions to address concerns about vulnerable people being encouraged by relatives or carers to take their own lives when they had not made such a decision themselves, he said. Such safeguards would afford more protection to the vulnerable than a total ban on assisted suicide, he said.
The rights to life, privacy, self-determination, dignity and equality were all involved here and the court was not being asked to take any step terminating a life but to allow a competent person realise the effects of all those rights, he said.
The entitlement to a dignified death is protected by the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights and the State has no right to say its interest in a person’s life or “some theory of natural law” overrides that person’s absolute right to decide the course of their own lives, he added.
The State cannot intrude into a zone of private behaviour “and criminalise it because it doesn’t like it”.
A Constitution that puts such a high value on human dignity does not permit the State say to Ms Fleming she had to bear all that will be involved as her condition deteriorates, he said. Imposition of medical treatment against a person’s wishes amounted to “battery”.
Mr Murray was continuing his arguments in the continuing action by Ms Fleming (58), who is in the fianl stages of multiple sclerosis and wants the court to permit her be lawfully assisted in taking her own life.