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Thursday 26 April 2018

Day of high emotion as Marie begs to be let die

Terminally ill Marie Fleming with her partner, Tom Curran, as she takes her case to the courts
Terminally ill Marie Fleming with her partner, Tom Curran, as she takes her case to the courts

MARIE Fleming just wants to die in the safe surroundings of her own home, in the arms of her loving partner and children.

The former UCD lecturer, pictured, is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and wants a court to allow someone to help her die in a way she chooses, rather than choke on her own saliva – the end her doctors have told her otherwise awaits.

Marie wants to know that when she passes on, her loved ones will not be prosecuted and end up in jail, facing a maximum sentence of 14 years.

This is the death of Marie's choice.

In court yesterday, a smile broke through the sadness on the faces of her two adult children and stepson when she said she wanted her funeral to be 'a celebration' with jazz music.

The loving mother and grandmother told the court how she wants to be buried in a wicker casket which is to be carried to the church in a regular car, rather than an expensive hearse.

"So you've thought it right through?" her barrister asked her yesterday with some hesitation.

"Oh I have," said the 58-year-old grandmother in her soft Donegal accent, decisive and precise by contrast.

She revealed how, five years ago, she had looked into the assisted suicide service provided by Dignitas in Switzerland.

However, on learning that they were based at an industrial estate, she realised that this was not an option for her.

"I didn't want to end my life in an industrial estate," she said.

Her only alternative scenario is another demise – one which sees Marie ending her days completely incapacitated, blind and unable to express herself.

Her physician has told her that the likely finale will see the former UCD lecturer fatally choking on her own saliva.

That is not the death of Marie's choosing – it would hardly be the death of anybody's choosing.

But the method of Marie's death of choice, as she described it, seemed perhaps almost equally shocking in its stark finality – whereby she would inhale poisonous gases administered through a gas mask.

In her softly slurred and croaking voice that betrayed the relentless progression of her disease, her testimony in court yesterday was a deeply poignant, powerful and highly personal plea for a peaceful and dignified passing.

It was also undeniably uncomfortable and at times, disturbing.

Listening in court as she described the mechanics of the death of her choice was a little horrifying and caused her children to automatically place their hands to their mouths.

She believes that by moving her head, she would be able to initiate the flow of gas by blowing into the tube.


"I know I would be able to do it," she said.

"I have practised it in my mind over and over again and by doing that, it has enabled me to confront any fears I may have had."

"I have put all my wrongs to rights and my rights to wrongs. I've sorted out everything in my head."

The legal system is accustomed to all the various faces of mortality – murder, manslaughter, deliberate, accidental and incidental.

But this was a new and unfamiliar form. This was death before occurrence; one as a deliberate choice, one as the better part of an impossible situation – at least in the eyes of the plaintiff herself.

Her words were devastating in their simplicity. She has little quality of life and can do nothing without assistance. Her only pleasurable pursuits are listening to the radio and writing, with the aid of a friend who comes to take dictations. Two hours of this, however, leaves her exhausted for two whole days.

She summed up the fundamental question of what constitutes quality of life in one powerful and intensely moving sentence.

"To be kept in a state of not being able to smell the flowers or to see my beautiful garden, or just to watch the changes in the seasons – that's not acceptable to me to miss all that," she said.

"I'd be doing myself an injustice."

She was speaking for herself – but her observations went far beyond the individual.

Irish Independent

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