Irish News

Sunday 13 July 2014

I would risk jail to end Marie's needless suffering, says partner

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 29/09/2012|05:00

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Tom Curran and Marie Fleming, who are challenging Ireland's suicide laws

THE Co Wicklow-based couple taking a landmark right-to-die action by challenging Ireland's suicide laws gave up their anonymity to speak to the Irish Independent today.

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Marie Fleming (59), who is in the terminal stages of a debilitating illness, wants the option to end her own life with the help of her partner, who is also her full-time carer.

The former UCD law lecturer, a long-term multiple sclerosis sufferer, wants to secure "peace of mind" that she will not die in needless pain.

She is challenging -- in the High Court -- our suicide laws to spare her partner, Tom Curran, the threat of up to 14 years in prison for helping her die.

Mr Curran is the co-ordinator of the Irish branch of Exit International, the end-of-life information organisation that campaigns across the world for the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The former IT consultant, who was named the 2012 Wicklow Carer of The Year, said the couple had hoped to keep their identities secret as the case made its way through the courts.

But they have acknowledged that efforts to maintain their privacy could prove next to impossible because of Mr Curran's high-profile campaign to liberalise Ireland's end-of-life laws.

"We are taking this case on both our behalfs," said Mr Curran, whose partner is wheelchair bound and requires round-the-clock care.

"Marie may never exercise the decision (to end her life), but I am willing to go to prison if needs be.

"It would give Marie such comfort, such peace of mind, to know that I will be there for her and that she will not have to suffer needlessly. It would give her comfort to know I could help without the threat of prison. Peace of mind, that is what this case is about."

Five years ago, Ms Fleming registered with Dignitas, the clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, where terminally ill patients can bring about their own deaths under the supervision of qualified doctors.

But Ms Fleming did not travel after Mr Curran vowed that he would assist her to die at a time of her choosing -- even if it meant going to jail.

The case of Fleming v Ireland is set to revive a major debate about assisted suicide and end-of-life decision making.

Suicide was decriminalised in 1993, but any person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another person faces arrest and a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Discriminatory

Lawyers for Ms Fleming are expected to argue that the 1993 law is discriminatory as it allows an able-bodied person to take their life, but prevents a disabled person from doing so because the person who helps them faces prosecution.

Ireland has only had one so-called right-to-die case.

In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled, in a case involving a woman who had been in a near-persistent vegetative state for more than 20 years, that the right to die included the right to die a dignified and natural death -- in that case by the withdrawal of medical treatment, including artificial feeding. But the court would not condone any bid to actively bring about a person's death.

In June, the British Columbia Supreme Court in Canada declared a section of the criminal code that bans physician-assisted death invalid.

The judge concluded the Canadian law must allow physician-assisted suicide in cases involving patients who are diagnosed with a serious illness or disability and who are experiencing "intolerable" physical or psychological suffering with no chance of improvement.

That case has been appealed by the federal government.

Irish Independent

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