Dáil should address assisted suicide issue, says Gilmore

Independent TD calls for DPP guidelines

The Dáil should address the issue of assisted suicide, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said.

He welcomed a "positive suggestion'' from Wicklow Independent TD Stephen Donnelly that an expert report be compiled on the issue, adding that he would discuss the matter with his Cabinet colleagues.

He said drafting legislation would not be a simple issue. “There is a range of ethical, legal and other issues associated with this topic.’’

Mr Gilmore said it should not be a "government and opposition type of issue'', adding that members of the Oireachtas should address it first as human beings and then as legislators.


Mr Donnelly said that under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 assisted suicide carried a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. A constituent, Marie Fleming, had lived with multiple sclerosis for 35 years, and earlier this year she had gone to the Supreme Court with her partner Tom Curran to challenge the Act's constitutionality.

"The court did not find it unconstitutional, but it was stated that nothing in the judgment should be taken as necessarily implying that it would not be open to the State, in the event that the Oireachtas was satisfied that measures with appropriate safeguards could be introduced, to legislate to deal with a case such as the appellant," Mr Donnelly added.

Constant pain
He said he had spoken with Mr Curran, who had told him that Ms Fleming's condition had worsened and she was now completely immobile. She was in constant pain and and the last time they tried to adjust her medication she lapsed into a coma so they could not do that anymore. "Tom said that Marie wants to live and that she has a lot of reasons to live, but her ability to eat may deteriorate, and Marie has said she is adamant she will not use artificial feeding. In that case, under the current legislation, Marie Fleming would starve to death.'' He said Mr Curran had said Ms Fleming would ask the Oireachtas to protect her family and to change the law so she could die on her own terms without the threat of Mr Curran spending 14 years in jail.

Mr Donnelly said the couple had asked that guidelines issued by the DPP be put in place, probably with legislative backup from the Oireachtas, to provide guidance on what was considered a qualifying case where a penalty would not apply. The British DPP had such guidelines already in place.

Mr Gilmore, who said he had met with Mr Curran, said the DPP was entirely independent and that must be respected. He said the issue should be approached “by putting ourselves in the situation that Tom and Marie are in’’.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times