independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

“I should have ended my own life when I could”, court hears Marie Fleming's regrets in suicide appeal

Marie Fleming

A terminally-ill woman taking a landmark case for assisted suicide regrets not ending her life when she was able to do it herself, Ireland's highest court heard.

A lawyer for multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer Marie Fleming said she believes she faces a painful, humiliating and distressing death if she cannot choose to die peacefully at home in the arms of her partner Tom Curran, who would be left facing a threat of jail.

Appealing to the seven-judge Supreme Court in Dublin, senior counsel Brian Murray said the cruel irony was that were Ms Fleming able-bodied and not experiencing the same acute degree of suffering, she would be able to do what she now wants to do.

"She expressed at one stage regret that when she was able-bodied and considered ending her own life that she did not do so," the barrister added.

Ms Fleming is wheelchair-bound, physically helpless, lives in constant pain, cannot swallow and suffers choking sessions which she fears will eventually kill her, the court was told.

Her barrister said she is in the late stages of the terminal and incurable illness, with between months and two years left to live, and may lose the ability to communicate and be "locked-in" while fully sensed.

"She faces a death which she believes will be painful, humiliating and distressing," said Mr Murray.

"She wishes to end her life and to die, not as and when her body is overwhelmed by her disease and at the culmination of the suffering which she presently experiences, but instead to die peacefully and at a time and in a manner of her own choosing.

"What she asks is not to have another person kill her. She wishes to, and can, take the decisive physical step herself.

"However, her physical condition is so that she cannot end her life without assistance."

The lawyer revealed the 59-year-old former university lecturer could self-administer gas through a mask or a lethal injection through a cannula put into her arm, which she would activate by shaking her head or blowing.

Ms Fleming's legal team argued that the ban on assisted suicide discriminates as Ms Fleming should have the same right to die by suicide as an able-bodied person.

In her case against Ireland, the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the mother-of-two claims section 2.2 of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act, which renders it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another, is unconstitutional on grounds that it breaches her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

The appeal was fast-tracked through the legal system after three judges at the High Court in Dublin ruled last month that they could not support allowing a third party to bring about the death of another.

But they agreed the DPP, in this of all cases, would exercise her discretion in a humane and sensitive fashion as to whether to prosecute or not.

Ms Fleming, from Arklow in Co Wicklow, was diagnosed with MS in 1989.

She had given heartbreaking evidence to the specially convened court where she pleaded to be spared a horrible death and let her be helped to die lawfully with dignity, surrounded by her family and long-term partner.

Mr Murphy revealed that his client's landmark case was in relation to the "aiding and abetting" aspect of the act, and that Ms Fleming's concern was solely with the fact that she cannot be assisted in having a dignified death.

He argued there was a moral and practical difference between a person taking the final decisive step to end their life and it being done by another.

Appealing for his client to be allowed to kill herself, he maintained suicide - which was decriminalised in 1993 - was legally, morally and ethically different to being killed.

"Consent is not a defence to a charge of murder and never has been," he added.

Referring to the earlier ruling, Mr Murray said there was no credible evidence that there would be any increase in the risk of unlawful deaths occurring if the exception to the law that his client contends for was introduced.

He maintained not a single person will be harmed if she is allowed to take the course of action and there would be "no public consequence, no defined harm" arising from this.

"We have of course always accepted the very weighty public interests which lie on the side of balance," he added.

"One of these is an entitlement of society to an assurance that the final irrevocable act is voluntary.

"An assurance is given where the laws are such that its the person themselves who take that final step they haven't changed their minds."

The hearing is expected to run for three days, continuing tomorrow, with arguments from the state and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

 

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