Dearbhail McDonald: Only a matter of time before we were faced with the right-to-die issue
Published 05/12/2012 | 05:00
IT was only a matter of time before the Irish courts were confronted with a new right-to-die case. Around the world judges are dealing with life and death dilemmas posed by incurably ill but competent patients.
People such Tony Nicklinson, the British man with locked-in syndrome who lost his High Court battle to end his life.
Nicklinson died last August.
People like Gloria Taylor, the Canadian woman with Lou Gehrig's disease who was among a group of plaintiffs in a landmark case that saw the British Columbia Supreme Court strike down Canada's ban on doctor-assisted suicide as unconstitutional. Taylor, who wanted a doctor to help her die at a time of her own choosing, died last October from an infection.
Ireland has Marie Fleming, a former UCD lecturer in the final stages of multiple sclerosis. Fleming wants to end her life soon but is past the stage of ending her own life without help.
Suicide is not illegal. But it is an offence under the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 for a person to be an accomplice to such an act: anyone who helps Marie Fleming or others like her die face a jail term of up to 14 years. In her landmark legal action, Ms Fleming claims her constitutional as well as European Convention rights to dignity, privacy and autonomy as well as self-determination, are impaired by the force of the absolute ban on assisted suicide ban in the 1993 law. The absolute ban is designed to prevent a "slippery slope" leading to euthanasia.
The State denies that the Constitution confers a right to die. And Ms Fleming accepts the legitimate objective of protecting human life the absolute ban seeks to protect.
But her lawyers argue the ban is, for people like Marie Fleming, disproportionate in its effects on incurably terminally ill people who cannot die at a time of their own choosing.
They say a carefully tailored exception for people like Marie Fleming would not lead to a broad euthanasia regime that would disproportionately affect the vulnerable.