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Paralysed woman says assisted suicide is only way she can escape 'horrible' death


A TERMINALLY ill woman has asked the High Court to save her a "horrible" death and permit her be lawfully helped to die peacefully and with dignity "in my own home with the people I love around me".

Marie Fleming, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), gave evidence from a wheelchair in her action challenging the absolute ban here on assisted suicide.

She told a specially convened three-judge court she had come "while I can still use my voice " to ask them "to assist me in having a peaceful, dignified death".

She had fully thought the matter through, discussed it "non-stop" with her family, and was "ready to die". "I am at peace with the world, I have put all my wrongs to right, I have sorted all in my head, I have even arranged my funeral."

She had planned every detail including her funeral where she wanted to be in a wicker coffin, jazz music to play and her life to be celebrated.

Her choice would be vindicated in having an independent witness attend at an assisted suicide, she added.

Ms Fleming (58), a mother of two with a stepson and grandchidlren who lives with her partner Tom Curran in Co Wicklow said, due to her worsening condition, the only method of voluntary death open to her now was by inhaling gas using a face mask or to have it administered via a canula into her arm.

Her doctor had said she would "not kill me" but would help if it was lawful to do so.

Mr Curran had offered to help her if it was lawful and she did not want the threat of prosecution hanging over him or any of her family.

"Tom has been there with me for 18 years, through good and bad. We fell in love but I don't think he signed up for what he got, he probably thought we could go on for ever."

Unless the court granted the orders sought, "I will die a horrible death which could take months or even a year." She knew a woman with MS who starved to death and died of hunger and thirst. "That's not what I want, I want to go peacefully in my own home with the people I love around me."

She told the judges she is paralysed, in constant and sometimes unbearable pain with deteriorating speech and swallow and totally dependent on her partner and seven carers.

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Her ordinary day begins at 8am when she is helped get up, showered, toileted and dressed, which took about two and a half hours. She had to rest after that or sometimes went for coffee with her partner or dictated to a friend who was helping her write a book. She was put to bed at 6pm "and then the day starts all over again".

She felt totally undignified and, despite having ways of trying to cope, "you begin to feel like a nobody". Most days her head was "bowed", "I don't like what is happening to me at all."

Her pleasures were her family, garden, the radio and creative writing and she had dictated a 120,000 word book but she was in the terminal stage of MS on the maximum dosage of medication and her neurologist had advised she could choke to death or die from pain and discomfort.

Having suffered with MS for 26 years, she knew the pain levels would increase to the point where she would be unable to tolerate it.

Her speech was deteriorating, she hated the prospect of being unable to communicate with her partner and family and had come to court to, while she could, use her voice to ask for help in having a peaceful, dignified death.

She had discussed her wishes at length with her family who had, after a lot of tears and questions, supported her in her wish to be permitted to take her own life, with assistance.

"To be kept in a state of not being able to smell the flowers or see my beautiful garden or just see the changes in the seasons, that's not acceptable for me to miss all that. I would be doing myself an injustice."

She gave her evidence calmly from the back of a packed and hushed court where the three judges had left the judges bench and sat near her in order to hear her. Her partner, children and other family members were in court.

The absolute ban on assisted suicide in Irish law breaches the rights of terminally ill people who have the necessary mental capacity to decide they wish to end their own lives but cannot do so without assistance, her lawyer said in arguments put before the court yesterday.

The State is opposing her action and contends there is no right to die under the Constitution and also argues removal of the absolute ban on assisted suicide could lead to vulnerable people being overborne to take their own lives.

The case continues.

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