Right-to-die case woman Marie Fleming dies aged 59
Multiple sclerosis sufferer lost landmark Supreme Court case this year
An undated family handout photo of Marie Fleming and her partner Tom Curran. Ms Fleming, 59, who had multiple sclerosis, died at her home in Arklow, Co Wicklow, at around 5.30am today. Photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire.
Marie Fleming with her partner Tom Curran (left) ,daughter Corrinna Moore, and family friend Brendan Gainey at the High Court in January this year after she lost her case challenging the absolute ban on assisted suicide. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Ms Fleming (59), who lived near Arklow in Co Wicklow, suffered from multiple sclerosis for some 25 years.
She had sought orders permitting her to be lawfully assisted to have a peaceful and dignified death at a time of her choice without the risk of prosecution for anyone who helped her.
After her case was rejected by the High Court, the seven judge Supreme Court ruled the right to life under the Constitution “does not import a right to die” in what it described as a “very tragic case”.
The court noted suicide was decriminalised here under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 but Section 2.2 of that Act made it an offence to assist a suicide.
In the High Court last December, Ms Fleming gave details of the reality of a daily existence, deprived of any personal autonomy.
She told of how, assisted by seven carers, she struggled with severe and sometimes unbearable pain barely managed by medication which left her with distressing side effects. Her doctor had said her mind and forceful clarity were all she has left.
“I’ve come to court today, whilst I still can use my speech, my voice, to ask you to assist me in having a peaceful, dignified death . . . in the arms of Tom and my children,” she said.
Ms Fleming, who was a lecturer in business studies at UCD, is survived by her partner Tom Curran, daughter Corrinna and son Simon.
Last month, the Health Service Executive and Minister for Health James Reilly apologised for the distress caused to Ms Fleming after questions were raised about her continuing eligibility for a medical card.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore paid tribute to Ms Fleming today for highlighting and important issue, saying her campaign on matters around the right to die was “both brave and courageous”.
“And while pursuing her campaign - at both political and legal levels - was always going to be a challenge, her deeply held conviction meant it was one she was never going to back away from...the fact that her case has kick-started a national debate on these matters will be her lasting legacy.”
Mr Gilmore recently said the Dáil should address the issue of assisted suicide but he acknowledged drafting legislation would not be a simple issue given ethical, legal and otheir associated issues.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier this year rejected calls to bring in assisted suicide legislation but paid tribute to Ms Fleming, who he described as “an extraordinary woman”.
“I believe that if this house were asked to find words to adequately describe the impeccable courage and dignity and competence of Ms Fleming it would probably be rendered mute,” he said.