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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Paralysed woman ‘entitled to a dignified death’, court told

Published 05/12/2012 | 12:26

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LAWYERS for a terminally ill woman who wants the courts to strike down Ireland’s absolute ban on assisted suicide have said the State cannot tell people there is a theory that "limits our right to self-determination".

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A special three-judge Divisional High Court, convened to hear cases of public and constitutional importance, has also been told that a previous “right to die case” confirms the constitutional entitlement to privacy, autonomy, self determination and dignity.

Senior Counsel Brian Murray, representing Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming, said the 1995 Ward of Court case also confirms the constitutional entitlement to a dignified death.

Former UCD lecturer Marie Fleming, who is in the final stages of the disease, 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.

The 58-year-old grandmother gave evidence yesterday in the landmark case and her partner of 18 years, Tom Curran, is present for today's hearing.

This morning, High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns asked Ms Fleming’s legal team for sworn statements from medics on what palliative care might be available to someone with a terminal illness such as Marie Fleming who declines medical treatment.

Such evidence might be relevant if the court were to apply a proportionality test, said Judge Kearns.

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.

The divisional court also heard this morning that Gloria Taylor, one of the lead plaintiffs in a Canadian case which struck down that country’s absolute ban on physician-assisted suicide, has passed away.

Earlier this year, the British Columbia (BC) Supreme Court declared the ban on physician-assisted suicide unconstitutional, giving the Government a year to rewrite the law.

The ban on physician assisted suicide law was described by the BC Supreme Court as discriminatory, disproportionate and over broad.

The Canadian government has appealed the ruling.

Gloria Taylor died last October from an infection.

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