Thursday 18 January 2018

Right-to-die judges told: 'You can't allow any step to end life'

Tim Healy

THE courts here "can never sanction any step to terminate a life", the Supreme Court heard yesterday.

And the policy of laws decriminalising suicide is adverse to all suicide, the State argued.

Asked by Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman if the consequence of that position means someone such as terminally ill Marie Fleming (inset) may die "an extremely distressing death", Michael Cush, for the State, agreed that was the case.

That was not to say a choice could not be made in relation to people in her position but that choice was not for the courts, he said. Ms Fleming's case had generated "huge debate", he noted.

He was making submissions in the continuing appeal by Ms Fleming against the High Court's rejection of her challenge to the absolute ban on assisted suicide in Section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993.

Ms Fleming (59), living in Co Wicklow, is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and says she needs to be assisted to fulfil her wish of a dignified death at a time of her choice.

As a severely disabled person unable to take her own life unaided, the ban disproportionately infringes her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights, she claims.

She also claims the ban is discriminatory in that an able-bodied person may take their own life but she cannot be lawfully helped to do the same.

Yesterday, Mr Cush said suicide was a serious social problem with "appalling consequences" for family, friends and community and its decriminalisation in the 1993 Act did not create a right to commit suicide.

The Supreme Court has ruled in another case there is a right to die naturally and a right to refuse medical treatment but our law goes no further than that, he said.

If there is a legal right to commit suicide, there is no constitutional and no general right to do so, he argued. The policy of the law remains "adverse to all suicide" and that was why aiding and abetting a suicide was an offence, he said.

While the State has sympathy for Ms Fleming, who wants to be assisted in taking her own life, there was no constitutional right to assistance, he added.


The primary concept in the Constitution is the protection of life and there was no general right to commit suicide.

Even if there was a right to assisted suicide such as Ms Fleming contended for, the State was entitled to justify the ban on the basis of its view any relaxation of the ban could place vulnerable people at risk. The ban was intended to apply to all, including those who engaged in suicide pacts, he said.

The appeal resumes next Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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