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Sunday 21 September 2014

Doctor would help me if it were legal, woman tells court

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 05/12/2012 | 05:00

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A TERMINALLY ill woman with multiple sclerosis who wants to end her life has revealed how a doctor would help her to die if Irish law permitted assisted suicide.

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Marie Fleming, a former UCD lecturer, said that the only option available to her now involved the use of gas via either a mask being placed over her face or via a cannula into her arm.

Ms Fleming said she could activate the gas by moving her head to initiate the flow or by blowing into a tube.

Her doctor had said "she will not kill me" but would help if it were lawful, Ms Fleming told a specially convened three-judge High Court.

Observers, including Ms Fleming's partner Tom Curran, children and stepson, quietly wept in the Four Courts yesterday as Ms Fleming – who is completely paralysed – asked the courts to strike down the law which criminalises assisted suicide.

Ms Fleming is challenging a section of the 1993 Criminal Law Suicide Act, which makes it an offence, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, to help someone take their own life.

Alternatively, she wants an order requiring the DPP to issue guidelines setting out what factors are taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute a person who assists her in ending her life.

Ms Fleming has insisted that in her landmark action she is not challenging the right of the State to prevent assisted suicide. But she argues that highly limited exceptions should be carved out of the 1993 law, an absolute ban on assisted suicide that she claims is "too broad and blunt".

Ms Fleming was diagnosed with MS in the 1980s and is in the final stages of the condition.

She told the court she had come to ask for help to die while she still had her voice.

Violation

Her lawyers told the court that the section of the 1993 act was contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Senior Counsel Brian Murray told the court Ms Fleming will argue that the absolute ban on assisted suicide is a violation of rights protected by the Constitution including the right to privacy, dignity, autonomy and self-determination.

Preventing the provision of assistance to those who want to end their life but are unable to do so impairs those rights, said Mr Murray.

The action by Ms Fleming is expected to last two weeks.

The State opposes the action.

The State will argue that there is no right to die under the Constitution.

Irish Independent

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