Woman loses assisted suicide case
A severely disabled woman in the final stages of multiple sclerosis has lost her landmark High Court challenge to the absolute ban on assisted suicide.
The three-judge High Court ruled today the absolute ban is justified to protect vulnerable others from involuntary death and does not breach Marie Fleming's personal autonomy and equality rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.
A "real risk" of removing the ban was that, even with rigorous safeguards, it "would be impossible to ensure that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of option in order to avoid a sense of being a burden on their family and society", it said.
The court also found the Director of Public Prosecutions could not issue guidelines setting out what facts she would consider in deciding whether to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.
Only the Oireachtas can change the law and it would be unconstitutional for the DPP to effect a change in the law by issuing guidelines which would have the effect of the law not being enforced, it said.
However, it added, if there was "reliable" evidence after an assisted suicide of compliance with guidelines such as those set out by the UK DPP in relation to assisted suicide prosecutions, the court said it believed the DPP here would excerise her discretion "in this of all cases" in a "a humane and sensitive fashion".
Giving the court's judgment, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said the court regarded Ms Fleming as "in many ways the most remarkable witness" all three judges had ever been privileged to encounter.
"Her courage in adversity is both humbling and inspiring" he said.
If the court could tailor-make a solution which would suit the needs of Ms Fleming alone without any possible implications for third parties or society at large, there might be a good deal to be said for her Artice 40.3.2 case [relating to personal autonomy]," he said. "But this court cannot be so satisfied."
Given the public importance of the issues raised in the case, the court said it would award costs to Ms Fleming against the State and DPP.
Outside court, Ms Fleming, in a statement read on her behalf by her solicitor, said she was "very disappointed and saddened" at the outcome.