Judgment on right-to-die case due in January

Thursday 13 December 2012 22.02
Marie Fleming is challenging criminal law on assisted suicide
Marie Fleming is challenging criminal law on assisted suicide

The High Court will deliver judgment on 10 January in the case of Wicklow woman Marie Fleming, who took a landmark case challenging the ban on assisted suicide.

After a six-day hearing, High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said there was much to think about and consider.

The specially convened three-judge court hopes to deliver judgment next month, he said.

Concluding the case for the State, Senior Counsel Michael Cush told the court that there was no right to end your own life under the Constitution.

He said that the State was entitled, as a matter of social policy, to enact an absolute ban on assisting anyone to do so.

Mr Cush said the crucial issue was there was no right to suicide and the social policy outlawing assisted suicide was a proportionate ban to protect vulnerable people from involuntary death.

While the absolute ban on assisted suicide may be unfair to Ms Fleming, it was a solution that best fitted the needs of society and vindicated the right to life in a situation where there was a real risk of involuntary death of others, he said.

He said it was important for the court to address the law precisely and identify precisely what the plaintiff wanted and what right was being infringed.

It was insufficient to refer to a general Constitutional right to autonomy, he said.

Mr Cush also pointed to several other jurisdictions where the courts had upheld a blanket ban on assisted suicide to be proportionate.

Counsel for Marie Fleming, Brian Murray said the key question was, is it constitutional for the State to say to the plaintiff that she must endure what she was enduring for the remainder of her natural life because the State believed her life had a value entitling it to stop her from ending it or because of some entirely speculative risk of a very remote kind that if we let her class of persons have assisted suicide then others will terminate their lives.

That was so removed and untenable as a basis for impairing her rights, he said.

The issue of equality ran throughout the case, he said, and the question must be asked was the State entitled to block someone physically unable to end their own life from doing what an able-bodied person was free to do.

He said there was no evidence presented in the case that removing the absolute ban to cater for particular cases like Ms Fleming, who was terminally ill, would create harm to others or promote suicide in any way.

Mr Murray said that there was a negative duty on the State not to impede his client's right to bring about her own death at a time and manner of her choosing.

Her barrister said she was being uniquely deprived of this opportunity yet she uniquely required it.