Wednesday 28 June 2017

Marie Fleming loses Supreme Court right-to-die case

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

A WOMAN in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis has lost her landmark challenge to Ireland's legal ban on assisted suicide.

Former UCD lecturer Marie Fleming (59) was unable to attend the Supreme Court this morning due to her deteriorating health.

A full, seven-judge Supreme Court this morning gave its ruling in the so called "right to die" action brought by Ms Fleming who wants to be helped to end her life at a time of her choosing.

The court, led by Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, said that the right to life does not import a right to die and said there was no express right in the constitution to commit suicide.

Judge Denham said that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide or to arrange for the termination of ones life at the time of their own choosing.

Judge Denham added that there was nothing in the judgment to prevent the State from introducing legislative measures, with appropriate safeguards, to deal with cases such as Ms Flemings.

Marie Fleming who travelled to the High Court last year to personally testify in the High Court leg of her case, wanted orders and declarations which would allow her be lawfully assisted in fulfilling her wish of taking her own life at a time of her choosing.

Her partner Tom Curran is willing to assist her provided he could do so lawfully.

The courts previously heard that with the help of Mr Curran, Ms Fleming

- a mother of two - could self-administer gas through a mask, or shake her head or blow to activate a canula or tube in her arm which could dispense lethal drugs.

Last January a three judge High Court, known as a Divisional Court, unanimously ruled that the absolute ban on assisted suicide is fully justified under the Constitution to protect the most vulnerable in society and could not be diluted even in the "harrowing" case of Ms Fleming.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which reserved its judgment.

Reserving judgment last March, the Chief Justice, MsJustice Susan Denham, said that the case raised "complex and important" constitutional issues, but said that the court would deliver its judgment as soon as possible because it recognised the urgency of the landmark appeal.

Ms Fleming has sought a declaration that the ban on assisted suicide, which attracts a potential jail term of up to 14 years, was unconstitutional and incompatible with her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Alternatively, she sought an order directing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidelines regarding the factors to be considered in deciding whether or not to prosecute an individual for assisting or aiding a person to end their life.

The Supreme Court has previously considered end of life issues, including the right to die and the ability of competent adults to refuse medical treatment.

In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to die included the right to die a dignified and natural death in a case involving a woman who had been in a near-persistent vegetative state for more than 20 years.

But the court would not condone any bid to actively bring about a person's death.

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