News agency Reuters was either being mischievous or else plain lazy when it sent out a report last week about the High Court's decision in the right-to-die case which chose to highlight how Marie Fleming's partner might face jail "in mainly Roman Catholic Ireland" if he helped the 59-year-old former lecturer and multiple sclerosis sufferer to die.
Religion never entered the court during deliberations, and it certainly was not mentioned in the judgement. It's hardly as if Ireland is alone in resisting calls to put assisted suicide on an officially-sanctioned footing. Only four countries in Europe have gone down that route (Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) and only two US states ( Oregon and Washington).
It just felt as if Reuters was peddling crude stereotypes about Irish society which had no place in this tragic story. Indeed, what characterised the public mood last week was not dogmatic certainty but honest sadness at the terrible dilemmas which Ms Fleming and her partner face.
That was reflected in the judgement itself, which warmly praised Ms Fleming as "the most remarkable witness which any member of this court has ever been privileged to encounter", and acknowledged that her life had been made "miserable" by her condition. If there was any disappointment that the court still did not rule in her favour, it surely stemmed from the same human sympathy.
Ms Fleming has fought a dignified battle to prove that her human right to bodily autonomy should also include the right to die in a manner of her choosing and that the ban on assisted suicide was an infringement of that because she would, at some point, need her partner's help to carry out those human rights.
It was not to be. The judgement was compassionate and humane, and the State paid the entire cost of the legal challenge, but it upheld the law as it has stood since 1993. Suicide is not a crime, but someone aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring suicide on behalf of someone else is still liable to a prison sentence of up to 14 years. And whilst there may be some who consider that denying Ms Fleming and her partner the comfort of knowing that she can die in peace when she chooses and he can mourn her in dignified freedom afterwards is a terrible affront, it's hard to argue with the judgement itself.
As the court said, it would be one thing if it was possible to frame the law in such a way that Ms Fleming could be given what she wants without it impacting negatively on society as a whole, but the DPP had been able to prove that it was not.
Changing the law on assisted suicide would have a radical effect on the treatment of chronically and terminally ill patients in Ireland. There are many people who would potentially be affected by a change in the law, including "the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised, and emotionally vulnerable". It would also, the High Court decided, be impossible to police.
Of course, there's no consensus. The most striking feature of the judgement was how, when examining the same evidence which Canadian courts had determined showed no evidence of abuse of the law on assisted suicide, the Irish High Court came to "exactly the opposite conclusions", finding not least that elderly patients suffering dementia are particularly vulnerable.
"Legally assisted deaths without explicit request", as they are known, remain "strikingly high" in countries which have legislated for assisted suicide, and in some have reached 1 per cent of all recorded deaths with little official reaction.
Compassion for those who want to die with dignity is an important mark of a civilised society, but so is compassion for those who may have no personal desire to die at a particular moment but who may in future feel pressurised into ending their own lives because they don't want to be a burden on their loved ones.
The phrase "opening the floodgates" is considered provocative, but it is hard to deny that, when something becomes legally available, more people will avail of it, and amongst that number will be many who shouldn't be there. Sick and elderly people don't want to feel that they are a financial and emotional drain on their loved ones. If an "easier" way is available, many might be tempted to take it.
The medical establishment itself has not always behaved with due concern for terminal patients' rights, as is seen in the ongoing controversy in the UK about the so-called Liverpool Care Pathway, which many regard as little more than a fast-track euthanasia programme. The necessary safeguards are just not there – a recent Newsnight investigation found cases where patients were euthanised without the knowledge or consent of their families – and there's a culture of silence within hospitals not to question their own methods.
'Marie Fleming faces her own death with such calm dignity that it makes us almost ashamed of our own cowardice...'
To go down this route would have risked taking Irish society in a direction where human beings are regarded purely from a utilitarian standpoint, as if they have no value in themselves, only as vehicles towards other people's comfort or convenience – and it's not clear where that might lead. It's the exact opposite of the abortion debate in many ways. Abortion law is murky and legislation might arguably make it clearer. On assisted suicide, the law is already clear and changes might only make it murkier.
That doesn't mean there's no room for treating different situations in different ways. The court clearly felt Marie's "special and extenuating circumstances" should be treated "in a humane and sensitive fashion" when that situation arises. There's no reason to suspect that the State has any desire to vindictively pursue those who help terminally ill loved ones to have a peaceful end to life, but it has to be on a case by case basis rather than the law giving a blank cheque to apply to all future cases.
What Ms Fleming's story does more than anything is personalise this complex issue. It's not law or ethics ultimately, it's just about one woman and the arc of her life, and we can't help but see ourselves reflected in that. It was the same with the death of Savita Halappanavar, or the suicide of Shane McEntee, or those few moments with the desperate man who called FM104 live on air last week .
Whatever complex issues might be involved are stripped away and it's the human tragedy which makes the deepest impression. We know that people are going through hell all the time, all around us, but somehow we shut it out. Individual cases bring it home. In recent weeks there's been a palpable sense of the country facing into such questions of mortality. It's not a subject we ever willingly confront. We deal with death by evasion and euphemism.
Then a woman like Marie Fleming comes before us and faces her own death with such calm dignity that it makes us almost ashamed of our own cowardice. Death is only ever a matter of timing. Most of us have the luxury of putting off thinking about the distressing dates and details. Marie Fleming cannot afford to do that. That she stands up to the darkness with such robust grace is a humbling lesson in how to face eternity.