Right to die appeal rejected by Supreme Court

Marie Fleming fought landmark legal battle to be helped take her life

Tom Curran, partner of Marie Fleming, is consoled outside the Supreme Court yesterday by his son David and daughter Corrina. Photograph: Courtpix

Tom Curran, partner of Marie Fleming, is consoled outside the Supreme Court yesterday by his son David and daughter Corrina. Photograph: Courtpix

Tue, Apr 30, 2013, 06:00

Marie Fleming fought a landmark legal battle to be helped take her own life, and yesterday her long, dignified campaign appeared close to an end. With the rejection of her assisted suicide appeal by a seven-judge Supreme Court, Ms Fleming and her partner of 18 years, Tom Curran, returned to the privacy of their home in Wicklow last night to contemplate some stark, difficult choices.

“We will now go back to Wicklow and live our lives until such time as Marie makes up her mind that she has had enough,” Mr Curran said. “And in that case, the court will have an opportunity to decide on my future.”Ms Fleming (59), a lecturer who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, had gone to court to be lawfully assisted to have a peaceful death at a time of her choosing without putting loved ones who helped her at risk of prosecution.

The courts were told she suffers frequently from severe, at times almost unbearable pain. A collapsed shoulder impinges on her lung and breathing function, and she needs 22 pills to ensure her limbs are pliable and supple for the seven carers who shower, toilet, dress and put her back in her wheelchair.

But the disease has not impaired her cognitive functions; her doctor said her forceful clarity “is all that Marie has left”.

Rejecting the appeal in “this very tragic case”, the Supreme Court ruled there was no constitutional right to suicide or to arrange for the termination of one’s own life at a time of one’s choosing. The principle of equal treatment did not confer on Ms Fleming, as a disabled person, the right to be assisted in taking her own life.

When it upheld the blanket ban on assisted suicide in January, the High Court had said it was “sure” the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would act in a “humane and sensitive” way in considering whether or not to prosecute any case of assisted suicide.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court said prosecutions for aiding suicide were “exclusively” a matter for the DPP and it was “not for the courts to give general directions as to how she should exercise her functions”.

Ms Fleming was too ill to be in court yesterday. Her partner said they would consider an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but added: “We don’t necessarily have the resources, the stamina and maybe the interest in taking it.”