Dublin Ireland: A terminally-ill woman who suffers from an advanced stage of multiple sclerosis (MS) yesterday pleaded with three judges during a High Court hearing to spare her a horrible death and let her be helped to die lawfully with dignity, surrounded by her family.
Marie Fleming, who has suffered from (MS) since 1986 has taken this landmark court case seeking the right to end her life with assistance.
Ms Fleming a former university lecturer told the High Court Judges that it was important that she was heard before her voice deteriorates and she also told them.
"I want to go peacefully in my own home with the people I love around me,"
Ms Fleming is challenging section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act which "renders it an offence to aide, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another". The crime carries a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Ms Fleming is seeking a declaration that the 1993 Act is invalid under the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Alternatively, she is seeking an order requiring the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidelines setting out what factors are taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute a person who assists her in ending her life.
Her action is the first of its kind in Ireland. The case, against Ireland and the Attorney General, is due to take several days before the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan.
Whilst one has to feel sympathy for the plight of Ms Fleming there are very good reasons why assisted suicide is outlawed. Not least among these is the very high rate of suicide among young people and the message which would be sent by any change in the law. Such a change would also inevitably place those suffering from disabilities in grave danger.
There is no such right as 'a right to die' in either Irish or European law and whilst this is the first such case in Ireland the issue has been tested elsewhere and has been the subject of failed attempts at amending the law in the UK
Proponents of assisted suicide redefine human life by referring to a quality of life standard, below which they claim life is not worth living. Ideologically speaking this is part of the philosophy of so called ‘choice’ but what kind of choice is it? It is a choice without hope.
In fact hopelessness rather than hope looms large in assisted suicide decisions, choosing death over life. Rather than enshrining hopelessness and death in our laws, pursuit of the well-being and good of the suffering patient requires us to offer hope and the best possible care.
The prayer of St Francis says “Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope” We must redouble our efforts to love those in such dire circumstances and encourage them to have hope, not just in the here and now but in their future home in heaven.
In the UK during debate on the Falconer pro-assisted suicide amendment which was ultimately defeated. Baroness Campbell, the disability rights advocate who has spinal muscular atrophy argued that the amendment would send a signal of despair to the disabled and the terminally-ill and said that the Falconer amendment would change the "traffic-signal" from red to green for ending the lives of disabled people. This would be a major change in the way our culture regards people who are disabled. She noted that no major disability organisation supported the amendment - only a minority of vocal disabled individuals supported the measure".
Assisted suicide and euthanasia tends to generate its own demand; availability creates, respectively, a duty to die. Very old people, sick people, and the disabled may have to justify their decisions not to die if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised under the belief that because of their poor quality of life death is better for such people or the perception that they are a burden on society and would be better off dead.
It must also be stressed that good palliative care is essential in cases where there is chronic pain. This service is well developed in this country both on a home basis and in the hospices.