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Saturday 25 March 2017

Partner of right-to-die campaigner Marie Fleming admits to helping dozens plan their deaths

Marie Fleming with her partner Tom Curranat at their home in Co Wiclkow
Marie Fleming with her partner Tom Curranat at their home in Co Wiclkow
Tom Curran with his partner Marie Fleming
Tom Curran with his late partner Marie Fleming, who passed away last December

Meadhbh McGrath

The partner of the late right-to-die campaigner Marie Fleming has said he helped up to 200 terminally ill people plan their deaths.

Tom Curran is Europe coordinator for the non-profit organisation Exit International, and has called on the government to legislate for assisted dying.

Mr Curran, from Arklow, Co Wicklow, cared for Marie full-time for over 15 years as she suffered from multiple sclerosis, and together they unsuccessfully challenged the ban on assisted suicide, before her death on December 20, 2013.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Curran revealed that he had helped around 200 people in making plans to die, primarily through the use of a lethal drug that is banned throughout Europe and must be imported illegally.

Tom Curran with his partner Marie Fleming
Tom Curran with his partner Marie Fleming

He explained that the majority of people he has helped are based in Ireland and England.

“Some people who made plans have died since but I don’t know how they died. They don’t report back to me for obvious reasons.”

He added that there are many others he has refused to help.

“There are a lot of people that I just say ‘sorry’ to and I suggest that you go and talk to your doctor.

“These would be people who were irrationally suicidal. I have almost pleaded with them to make contact with the health or support services,” he said.

Mr Curran added that the plans typically involve dying at home rather than travelling abroad to clinics such as Dignitas in Switzerland.

“The problem with having to travel is that a lot of people who have gone there have gone before they really wanted to. They had to go before they became too incapacitated to go, but it was sooner than they absolutely needed to go,” he said.

He noted that Marie had originally considered travel to Dignitas, but later decided to make a plan to die at home in Wicklow.

Tom Curran with his late partner Marie Fleming, who passed away last December
Tom Curran with his late partner Marie Fleming, who passed away last December

“We got five more years of life together, a wonderful five years,” he said.

In his work with Exit International, Mr Curran has opened up about his own experiences, and said: “It had to come out, otherwise, to a certain extent, what Marie fought for is a waste.”

He admitted that he worries about a potential investigation into his role in assisting her death.

“It’s two and a half years ago but I’m still afraid of the knock on the door. I was surprised at the time that there wasn’t an investigation and that we could bury Marie in peace,” he said.

“Marie got her wish, which was to die peacefully, and we’re at peace now with her death but there’s always that fear of the law and that’s why it need to be changed.”

Last year, Dublin woman Gail O’Rorke became the first person to be charged with assisting the suicide of her close friend, Bernadette Forde, in 2011.

Although she was acquitted on all charges, Mr Curran said it came as “a bit of a shock”.

Mr Curran argued that the laws should be changed, and if the government were “afraid to make the decision themselves”, a referendum could be an option.

“I would have no objection to having it put to the people because I believe they would back it once the safeguards were built in to protect vulnerable people.”

“I don’t know when it will happen but the law will be changed eventually. But, in the meantime, there are people who need help, there are people like Marie who made the decision for themselves and, unfortunately, to help, the law has to be broken,” he added.

In a statement, the Department of Justice told the Examiner: “There are no plans to bring forward legislative proposals in this area.”

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