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Monday 22 September 2014

Assisted suicide ban 'is needed to protect vulnerable'

Tim Healy

Published 14/12/2012 | 05:00

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THE Government has defended the ban on assisted suicide, saying it is needed to protect vulnerable people from involuntary death.

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While the ban may be unfair to a terminally ill multiple sclerosis sufferer who has initiated a landmark legal action challenging the criminal ban, the prohibition against assisted dying best fits the needs of society, the High Court has heard.

Yesterday, a specially convened three-judge High Court said it would rule on January 10 in the unprecedented challenge to the absolute ban on assisted suicide here brought by MS sufferer Marie Fleming.

High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, sitting with Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, said the judges had many issues to consider following the six-day case.

Remedy

Ms Fleming (58) claims the absolute ban on assisted suicide in Section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act is unconstitutional on grounds that it breaches her personal rights under the constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

Alternatively, she argues that the DPP is required to publish guidelines outlining what factors are taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute assisted suicides.

In closing arguments, senior counsel Michael Cush, for the State, said the crucial issue was that there was no right to suicide under the constitution, and the important social policy outlawing assisted suicide was justified to protect vulnerable people from involuntary death.

While the absolute ban may be unfair to Ms Fleming, that was not the test the court had to apply, he said.

While the court was told that she has not refused palliative care, the two propositions were "not mutually exclusive".

If the ban was struck down, it would be difficult to fashion a remedy, and that was among the issues for the court.

Replying for Ms Fleming, Brian Murray SC said the case was not about a right to suicide but about infringement of her personal rights to equality, privacy and personal autonomy.

The State had failed to show that infringement was justified as applied to Ms Fleming, a person with the mental capacity to decide that she wanted to end her life but could not do so unassisted, he said.

The State was not entitled to erect "unreasonable hurdles" condemning Ms Fleming to "appalling suffering and undignified death".

Earlier, Prof Rob George, a UK specialist in palliative care, said he did not believe assisted suicide should be permitted for dying and seriously ill people.

Irish Independent

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