belfasttelegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Ban on assisted suicide defended

MS patient Marie Fleming wants to be allowed to die peacefully with dignity at home at a time of her choosing

A blanket ban on assisted suicide does not discriminate against a terminally ill woman who needs help to end her life as it applies to everyone, Ireland's highest court has been told.

Marie Fleming, who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis (MS), wants to be allowed to die peacefully with dignity at home, when she chooses, in the arms of her long-term partner Tom Curran without him facing the threat of jail.

Michael Cush, senior counsel for the Irish state, told seven judges hearing her appeal in Dublin's Supreme Court that while the state has sympathy for Ms Fleming and her difficult personal circumstances, there is no constitutional right to be assisted with suicide.

He said suicide was a severe social problem in Ireland with appalling consequences for family, friends and community, and statistics showed a sharp increase in suicide in 2011.

However, Mr Cush maintained that the decriminalisation of suicide in Ireland in 1993 did not give people a constitutional right to end their own lives and argued the ban on assisted suicide was not an equality issue.

"It is a prohibition which applies to everyone," said Mr Cush. "That was a conscious decision. It's meant to apply to everyone," he added, referring to suicide pacts between able-bodied people.

Ms Fleming, 59, can only move her head, lives in constant pain, cannot swallow and suffers choking sessions which she fears will eventually kill her, giving her a humiliating and painful death.

In her case against Ireland, the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the mother-of-two claims section 2.2 of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act, which renders it an offence to aide, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another, is unconstitutional on grounds that it breaches her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

The former academic, from Co Wicklow, is not asking for someone to kill her, but for assistance in putting a mask to her face or fitting a cannula in her arm, which she would activate by shaking her head or blowing.

The Irish Human Rights Commission, which is supporting Ms Fleming's case, has said assisted suicide could be introduced with stringent conditions.

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