A terminally ill woman has told the High Court that she needs assistance to die peacefully and with dignity or face a horrible death.

Marie Fleming, 58, is taking a landmark case to establish a right to end her life with assistance.

She gave evidence to a specially-convened three-judge High Court this afternoon.

Ms Fleming was diagnosed with MS in the 1980s.

She told the court she had come to ask for help to die while she still had her voice.

The Wicklow woman said she had suffered for 24 years and had been informed that she was now terminally ill and may choke to death.

Ms Fleming said she had spoken to her children and they are "supportive".

She said: "A lot of tears were shed and a lot of questions asked, but they see me and know how my life has deteriorated to such an extent that I can't help myself with even just minor things like showering."

Her partner Tom Curran is willing to help her die if it is lawful. She said she needed assistance, but her partner could face prosecution for helping her.

Her children could be prosecuted for being in the room with her when it happens and she did not want to "leave that legacy".

She described her daily life and said she has seven different carers.

"When you have to be showered, toileted and fed you start to feel like a nobody," she said.

Constant pain

Ms Fleming said she was in constant pain and while she tried to keep her head up, most days it was bowed.

She said she simply did not like what was happening to her and palliative care was not suitable for her as she would be doing herself an injustice.

She said she had talked non-stop about how she would end her life and had decided the only way for her would be to use gas through a face mask.

Ms Fleming could activate the gas by moving her head to initiate the flow or by blowing into a tube.

She would have no objection to an independent observer being present if the court requested, she said, adding: "We have nothing to hide."

Ms Fleming said she was now at peace with the world and had planned her funeral. She wanted jazz music to be played and for it to be a celebration.

"I want to go peacefully in my own home, with the people I love around me," she said.

Ms Fleming, who is confined to a wheelchair, gave evidence from the body of the court.

President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan moved from the bench to be closer to the witness for her evidence, which lasted just under half an hour.

Lawyers for the State did not cross-examine her.

Challenge to section of suicide law

Ms Fleming is challenging a section of the Criminal Law Suicide Act, which makes it an offence to help someone take their own life.

Her lawyers earlier told the court they will argue that the section of the act is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Senior Counsel Brian Murray told the court Ms Fleming is not challenging the right of the State as such to render it an offence to assist someone to take their own life.

But she is arguing any such offence should be qualified so as to permit an exception to be made in her extreme circumstances.

He said she will argue it is a violation of rights protected by the Constitution including the right to privacy, dignity, autonomy and self-determination.

Preventing the provision of assistance to those who want to end their life but are unable to do so impairs those rights, he said.

Mr Murray added the act was broader and blunter than it needs to be and condemned her to a life of pain, indignity and misery.

A similarly situated able-bodied person could end their own life by their own hand and a narrow exception should be made that could enable her to end her life without creating a risk of harm to others, he said.

Mr Murray read from a sworn statement given by Ms Fleming in which she said she joined Dignitas five years ago, but did not want to die "in an industrial estate far from home".

The action by Ms Fleming is the first of its kind in Ireland. It is expected to last two weeks.

The case is against Ireland, the Attorney General and the DPP, while the Human Rights Commission has also provided submissions.