Thursday 12 December 2019

I have MS and my heart goes out to Marie – but this was right decision

WHEN I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, my world fell apart. I was a young man in the prime of my life and those two words in a 20-minute appointment in a Belfast office changed my life forever. For the next three years, I was in a dark place, slipping deeper and deeper into a depressive state. The illness had robbed me of my career, my family, my health and my dreams.

I had chronic negative thoughts as my symptoms got more difficult to deal with. In a small way, I can understand how Marie Fleming, who lost her right-to-die case in the High Court this week, is feeling, as at times I couldn't really face the world and didn't want to go on.

I have to share with you that this is a terrible, nearly indescribable place to be and the pain is almost suffocating and unbearable.

Thankfully in my case and after three very difficult years, in 2009 I was able to find the spirit and the willpower to get a plan together and start to fight back against MS, attempt to get back my life and take control of my mind again. Over the past three years, I have got stronger and fitter and I am very proud now to say I am beating MS every day and for this I am truly grateful. I know I have a battle on my hands but to be frank I hope that my attitude will give me the artillery to fight whatever the disease decides to throw at me.

I think everyone would agree that this is a particularly devastating case both for former lecturer Marie, who suffers from a very severe form of MS that has left her in extremely poor health and paralysed; and her partner and wider family.

Assisted suicide is permitted in four European countries: Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The debate has played out through recent high-profile court cases in neighbouring Britain, where three people all failed in bids to win legal assistance to die.

There is no doubt this case has gripped the nation, and I am particularly interested in it for a range of reasons.

MS can be a really nasty neurological condition and is very prevalent across Ireland. It is a progressive condition generally, and unfortunately Marie is in the severely affected category.

Judge Nicholas Kearns said Ms Fleming was the most remarkable witness any member of the court had encountered and acknowledged that her life has been "rendered miserable" after being "ravaged by an insidious disease".

However, he said it would be impossible to tailor legislation governing assisted suicide on an individual basis and that doing so would be harmful to the public interest in protecting the most vulnerable members of society.

In many ways, there was no "right" or "wrong" outcome in a particularly poignant and heart-wrenching case of this nature.

If the court had allowed Marie's partner to assist her in dying, there may have been public outcry. And if it turned down the application, her daily suffering would have to continue, and she and her family would leave the court devastated.

Personally, I feel life is a gift and although I have no understanding of how miserable and painful Marie's life has become, my own view would be that the court had no alternative but to turn down the application.

I do feel that her case was so genuine that morally you could argue that allowing her partner to assist her with dying peacefully was the correct thing to do. But you might then have hundreds of these types of cases in the years to come. The issue would be, where would you draw the line?

So on those grounds, I have to err on the side of the court.

This case brought it home to me, how cruel not only MS can be, but how cruel life can be, too . . . and also the justice system.

Who gives anyone the right to decide on whether someone should continue in so much pain?

The answer for me is, we live in a very challenging world and we do need a justice system that attempts to bring some sort of decorum and lawfulness to the way we live our lives.

I just hope that Marie is not in too much pain and she gets the strength and peace of mind to carry on with her life as best she can.

My heart goes out to her and her immediate family.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss