Cabinet may set up expert group on assisted suicide, Gilmore says

Stephen Donnelly tells Dáil of constituent Marie Fleming’s worsening condition

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said he will discuss with Cabinet colleagues commissioning an expert report on assisted suicide.

“I think it is a very positive suggestion,’’ he said.

Mr Gilmore was replying in the Dáil today to Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, who suggested the expert report. The Tánaiste said he agreed members of the House should deal with the issue as legislators.

Mr Donnelly said a Wicklow constituent, Marie Fleming, had lived with multiple sclerosis for 35 years and she and her partner, Tom Curran, had gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Act prohibiting assisted suicide. While the court had not found the Act to be unconstitutional, it did say that nothing should be taken as necessarily implying that it would not be open to the Oireachtas legislating on the issue.


Mr Donnelly said Mr Curran had told him Ms Fleming’s condition had worsened and she was now completely immobile other than her mouth. She was in constant pain and she had lapsed into a coma when an attempt was made to adjust her medication.

He said Ms Fleming’s ability to swallow was getting worse, making it increasingly difficult to eat. She was adamant she would not use artificial feeding and, under the current legislation, she would starve to death.

Mr Donnelly said Ms Fleming and Mr Curran had had asked that guidelines be put in place and issued by the DPP, probably with guidance and potentially legislative back-up from the Oireachtas. This would enable the DPP to provide guidance on what was considered a qualifying case where a penalty would not apply.

“The UK DPP has already such guidelines in place and I believe we need them here very quickly,’’ Mr Donnelly added. He said that while he agreed a case currently before the courts could not be discussed, the Dáil should be able to debate the issue. The case before the courts could take a very long time and he would hate to meet anyone in Mr Curran’s situation and explain the law could not be changed in time.

Mr Gilmore said that he could not comment on the case before the courts, and he thought it was best that it conclude before the House discuss assisted suicide. He added that he had met Mr Curran. “It is my view that, as legislators, we should address this issue here in this House,’’ he added.

Mr Gilmore said it was a difficult issue, with a range of ethical and legal and other issues and they should address it collectively as legislators.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

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

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times