Ruling sought on assisted suicide

Fri, Nov 2, 2012, 00:00

A WOMAN confined to a wheelchair and in the final stages of multiple sclerosis has asked the High Court to rule whether she has a constitutional right to be assisted in taking her own life.

Marie Fleming (59), from Co Wicklow, is past the point where she can take her life by her own hand but wants to establish the right to end her life with someone else’s assistance, the court was told. She requires 24-hour care, has difficulties swallowing and speaking, and her condition is incurable and debilitating.

A specially convened divisional High Court, comprising the High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan and Mr Justice Paul Carney, will hear her case on December 4th.

While suicide is not illegal, it is an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison under the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 for a person to be an accomplice to such an act.

Ronan Murphy SC, for Ms Fleming, told Mr Justice Kearns yesterday his client was challenging the constitutionality of the 1993 Act as it interfered with her rights to autonomy and dignity.

He wanted an early hearing because Ms Fleming was in the final stages of MS and past the point of ending her life without assistance.

In her action against Ireland, the Attorney General and the DPP, Ms Fleming, a former UCD law lecturer, wants an order declaring section 2 (2) of the 1993 Act invalid under the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Alternatively, she wants an order requiring the DPP to issue guidelines on what factors will be taken into account when a decision is being made whether to prosecute a person who assists her suicide.

Lawyers for the Attorney General and the DPP said they had no objection to an early hearing. Paul O’Higgins SC, for the DPP, said the case would largely be a matter of legal argument rather than evidence. There was an amount of case law from other jurisdictions, in particular Canada, which would have to be looked at.

Mr Justice Kearns said it was a very important case with far-reaching implications. He fixed December 4th for the hearing and said the case could be mentioned to him again in a week.

Ms Fleming’s partner and full-time carer, Tom Curran, previously said he was prepared to assist her in ending her life. Mr Curran, an IT professional, is the co-ordinator of the Irish branch of Exit International, an international end-of-life information organisation campaigning for the legalisation of assisted suicide.