Fleming’s partner reflects on ‘very difficult’ process after Supreme Court rejects assisted suicide appeal
Marie Fleming and Tom Curran disappointed with yesterday’s court decision
Undated family photograph of Marie Fleming and Tom Curran. Ms Fleming was too ill to be in court yesterday.
The Chief Justice spoke for less than five minutes, but Tom Curran didn’t need that long to sense how it was going. “The court does not consider... The court rejects... The court would dismiss.”
Sitting in the back row of a packed courtroom, Tom Curran nodded his head in resignation; beside him, Marie Fleming’s daughter Corrina gently squeezed his arm.
Mrs Justice Susan Denham – flanked by six fellow Supreme Court judges, their expressions grave and benign – spoke of this “very tragic case” and alluded delicately to the details of the distressing medical condition of Marie Fleming, the 59-year-old college lecturer who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis.
Fleming was too ill to be in court yesterday; she was recovering from a bad chest infection. There on her behalf were Curran, her partner of 18 years, and other family members and friends.
When the judges left the court, he took out his phone and made a quick call.
“As expected,” Curran said softly.
On the steps of the Four Courts, Curran reflected on the long road that seemed now to have come to an end. Fleming could take her case to the European Court of Human Rights, he said, but “we don’t necessarily have the resources, the stamina and maybe the interest in taking it. Maybe this is where to leave it as far as that’s concerned.”
Asking the courts for help to die had been a very difficult process, “both emotionally and physically”, for Fleming, her partner said. They were disappointed with the outcome.
“It’s very difficult to understand how a person with a disability can be deprived of something that’s legally available to everybody else, every able-bodied person. And for that not to be discriminatory under the Constitution – that’s something we fail to understand,” said Curran. “The Constitution is there to protect people like Marie and to give them some solace that they will be looked after.”
In a statement, Multiple Sclerosis Ireland said it respected “the autonomy of individuals” and did not judge the decisions people made. Life with the disease could be difficult and while it was not usually fatal, its symptoms could have a “profound impact” on individuals and their families.
The Iona Institute, a religious advocacy group, welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court not to recognise a right to assisted suicide. The institute said it did not believe the right to die could be regarded purely as a matter of personal autonomy. “The wider societal implications of granting such a right cannot be ignored.”
The Chief Justice stressed yesterday that nothing in the court’s judgment should be taken as necessarily implying it would not be open to the State to deal with a case such as that of Fleming. Curran picked up on the point. While the court hadn’t seen fit to instruct the Oireachtas to change the law, parliament had the ability to change the law at any time.
“Maybe there are other people out there that would like to see that law changed, and would help us in going forward in doing that,” he said. But there are more immediate issues, he added.
“The court has ruled on Marie’s future, as far as they’re concerned, and we will now go back to Wicklow and live our lives until such time as Marie makes up her mind that she has had enough. And in that case, the court will have an opportunity to decide on my future.”