MS victim wants DPP to explain legal position on assisted suicide

Marie Fleming

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE terminally ill woman at the centre of a landmark challenge to Ireland's assisted-suicide laws wants the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidelines outlining the legal implications for anyone who assists in a mercy killing.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming, who is in the final stages of her illness, says anyone who wants – on compassionate grounds – to help incurably ill but competent people like her to die needs to know what factors will be taken into account if the DPP decides whether or not to prosecute.

Ms Fleming (58), who is seeking to have Ireland's absolute ban on assisted suicide struck down, wants to die at a time of her own choosing but can not do so without the assistance of others. Her partner of 18 years, Tom Curran, has vowed that he would help her die if assisted suicide was made lawful here.

A specially convened three-judge High Court heard that DPP Claire Loftus has decided not to issue any guidelines and that decisions as to whether there should be a prosecution will be decided on the basis of the facts of any individual case.

Ms Fleming is challenging a section of the 1993 Criminal Law Suicide Act, which makes it an offence, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, to help someone take their own life.

Alternatively, she wants an order requiring the DPP to issue guidelines setting out what factors are taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute a person who assists her in ending her life.

Under the 1993 law, prosecutions for assisting someone to commit suicide can only be brought with the express consent of the DPP.


Ms Fleming's lawyers have argued that because of the absolute nature of the ban on assisted suicide, the DPP must publish sufficient information as to how her discretion to prosecute will be applied.

This information would allow anyone wishing to help an incurably ill but competent person who wishes to die – but cannot do so without help – to know the precise legal implication of their actions.

"The discretion given to the DPP necessarily creates an uncertainty for any person who might assist a suicide for compassionate reasons in extreme circumstances," said Senior Counsel Ronan Murphy, for Ms Fleming.

That uncertainty could be reduced by published guidelines, he said, adding that prosecutorial guidelines would only be required where there was a "marked need for suicide" in compassionate cases.

Two years ago the DPP in Britain issued a series of guidelines which set out the public-interest factors in favour of or against prosecution in assisted-suicide cases.

This was in response to the a House of Lords ruling following a challenge to Britain's assisted suicide ban by an MS sufferer.

Debbie Purdy wanted clarification if her husband would face prosecution if he accompanied her to Dignitas, the Swiss clinic which helps the terminally ill to die.