A WOMAN in the final stages of an incurable and debilitating disease has asked the High Court to rule whether she has a constitutional right to an assisted suicide.
Marie Fleming (59), from Co Wicklow, is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and past the point where she could end her life by her own hand, but wants to establish the right to do so with the assistance of someone else.
She already has difficulties swallowing and speaking.
A specially convened division of the High Court -- comprising president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, and Mr Justice Paul Carney -- will hear her case on December 4.
While suicide is not illegal, it is an offence under the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 for a person to be an accomplice to such an act and attracts a jail sentence of up to 14 years.
Ronan Murphy, for Ms Fleming, said yesterday that she was challenging the constitutionality of that law insofar as it interferes with her rights to autonomy and dignity.
He was seeking an early date for the hearing of the case because she is in the final stages of MS and past the point of ending her life without assistance.
She would like to end her life in the near future, but cannot do so without such assistance given the 1993 law, Mr Murphy said.
Ms Fleming, a former UCD law lecturer, seeks an order declaring Section 2(2) of the 1993 Act invalid under the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms Fleming's action is aimed at sparing her partner and full-time carer, Tom Curran, the threat of imprisonment because he had said he is prepared to assist her in ending her life.
Mr Curran, an IT professional, is the co-ordinator of the Irish branch of Exit International, an international end-of-life information organisation that campaigns for the legalisation of assisted suicide.
Mr Curran earlier said that Ms Fleming, who is wheelchair bound and requires round-the-clock care, "may never exercise the decision (to end her life), but I am willing to go to prison if needs be.
"It would give Marie such comfort, such peace of mind, to know that I will be there for her and that she will not have to suffer needlessly."