Supreme Court to give verdict in right to die case next week

Marie Fleming, who is in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis, is challenging ban on assisted suicide

Marie Fleming pictured leaving the High Court last December with her partner Tom Curren and family members. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Marie Fleming pictured leaving the High Court last December with her partner Tom Curren and family members. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 11:03

Terminally ill Marie Fleming will know next week whether she may be lawfully assisted in ending her own life at a time of her choosing.

A seven judge Supreme Court will give judgment on Monday on the appeal by 59-year-old Ms Fleming, who is in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis, against the High Court’s rejection of her challenge to the blanket ban here on assisted suicide.

The appeal was heard over four days last February and involved analysis of what the Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, described as “complex and important constitutional issues”.

Ms Fleming, living in Co Wicklow, wants court orders and declarations which would allow her be lawfully assisted in fulfilling her wish of taking her own life at a time of her choice. She told the High Court her partner Tom Curran was willing to assist her if that was lawful.

She claims the absolute ban on assisted suicide set out 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 also claims 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.

A three judge High Court ruled last January the absolute ban on assisted suicide was fully justified under the Constitution to protect the most vulnerable in society and could not be diluted even in the “harrowing” circumstances of Ms Fleming.

The State is committed under the Constitution to protecting the sanctity of all human life and “valuing equally” the life of all persons, the High Court said. The ban was rationally connected to that fundamental objective and “not remotely based on arbitrary, unfair or irrational considerations”.

The High Court added 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.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said Ms Fleming’s courage in adversity was “both humble and inspiring” and she was “in many ways the most remarkable witness” any of the three judges had “ever been privileged to encounter”.