Tough decisions on assisted suicide law
Published 05/12/2012 | 05:00
WERE the courts to decide on the testimony of Marie Fleming alone, few would stand in the way of a relaxation of Ireland's absolute ban on assisted suicide.
The MS sufferer, who is in the final stages of her debilitating illness, insisted on giving voice to her tragic plight before she loses her voice, her only means of communicating.
The grandmother of seven's evidence was as compelling as it was heartbreaking.
Ms Fleming wants highly limited exceptions for incurably ill but competent people to die at a time of their choosing without those who assist them facing up to 14 years in jail.
A strong public interest objective lies behind the stand alone, absolute ban on assisted suicide contained in the Criminal Justice (Suicide) Act of 1993.
Without such an absolute ban, it is feared that there is a risk of abuse or that the sick, elderly or disabled might be induced, in moments of weakness, to resort to assisted suicide.
Ms Fleming, who requires assistance to die, argues that the public interest objective of the absolute ban is valid.
But she says the absolute nature of the ban disproportionately affects people in circumstances like hers, who are mentally competent but incurably ill and who can not assert their constitutional rights to dignity, privacy and autonomy.
The Fleming case raises fundamental questions about the sanctity of life.
And it raises questions about the rights of terminally ill patients to determine the manner and timing of their deaths as well as exposing a lack of appropriate end of life laws including living wills.
In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to die included the right to die a dignified and natural death, but it would not condone any bid to actively bring about a person's death.
Attempts to change policies on euthanasia have, understandably, met with strong resistance. And yet many contemplating Marie Fleming's plight would themselves seek to avoid the type of death that awaits her.
The task facing our courts and lawmakers is not an easy one.