Woman (59) seeks right to end her life with assistance

Sat, Dec 1, 2012, 00:00

Special arrangements have been made for a woman terminally ill with multiple sclerosis to give evidence to the High Court in Dublin next week on why she wants unprecedented orders permitting her to be helped to lawfully take her own life if and when she chooses.

Marie Fleming (59) is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move any of her limbs and her speech and swallowing are significantly affected.

She says she “cannot endure much more pain”, does not wish to endure significant further deterioration and believes she could die “within months” rather than years.

In an affidavit, Ms Fleming said she lives with “little or no dignity” and wants very much to “avoid a prolonged period of empty, desperate and undignified life, cut off from all the people, things and activities that have made my life worthwhile”.

Her partner Tom Curran had dissuaded her from taking her life five years ago but had assured her, if or when she came to the point where she wanted to die that he, “notwithstanding his own fears and sadness, will do all he can to help me.

“I want to die in my own bed, in my house and in my home area. I want to die with dignity and in a peaceful and gentle way consistent with the way in which Tom and I have lived our lives.”

First of its kind

The action by Ms Fleming, the first of its kind in the Republic, opens on Tuesday before a three-judge High Court, comprising the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan. Ms Fleming is scheduled to give evidence on Tuesday afternoon.

To accommodate her giving evidence from a wheelchair, with assistance from a carer, the judges will sit on the press benches.

A mother of two adult children living in Co Wicklow with Mr Curran, Ms Fleming, who was diagnosed in 1986 with MS and is in the final stages of the condition, says she is past the point where she could take her life unaided but wants to establish the right to end her life with assistance.

Suicide is not illegal in the Republic but it is an offence under the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 to be an accomplice to such an act. A jail sentence of up to 14 years may be imposed.

Ms Fleming is challenging the constitutionality of the 1993 Act alleging it interferes with her rights to autonomy and dignity. The action is expected to run for four days.

The court will initially address the issues under the 1993 Act before addressing issues relating to medical ethics.

The case is against Ireland, the Attorney General and the DPP while the Human Rights Commission has also provided submissions.

Guidelines

Ms Fleming, a former lecturer at University College, Dublin, 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 setting out what factors are taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute a person who assists her in ending her life.

Five years ago, Ms Fleming registered with Dignitas, the clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, where terminally ill patients can bring about their own deaths under the supervision of qualified doctors. Ms Fleming said she did not travel then because Mr Curran dissuaded her and due to her misgivings at dying “far from my own home and most of the people I have loved”.