The recent much publicised landmark case brought by terminally ill Marie Fleming to establish a right to assisted suicide in Ireland raises very profound questions which were given due consideration by a three judge sitting of the High Court in Dublin. The High Court in a unanimous verdict rejected her request to be lawfully permitted to have assistance in taking her own life. See Irish Times Report. The case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns delivering the verdict said,
The absolute ban on assisted suicide does not disproportionately infringe Ms Fleming’s personal rights under the Constitution and is wholly justified in the public interest to protect vulnerable people.
Dilution of the ban could open a “Pandora’s box” impossible to close afterwards, with the risks of abuse “all too real”. The court had heard “deeply worrying” evidence from doctors that there would be “a paradigm shift” with “unforeseeable and perhaps uncontrollable” changes in attitude and behaviour regarding assisted suicide.
Even with the most rigorous safeguards it “would be impossible to ensure the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of this option in order to avoid a sense of being a burden on their family and society”.
In delivering the verdict, which was very clear Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns issued an unusual recommendation in suggesting that the Director of Public Prosecutions would adopt a humane and sensitive approach in the event of assisted suicide occurring in this case.
He said the court, comprising himself, Mr Justice Paul Carney and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, was “sure” the DPP, knowing the “appalling” plight of Ms Fleming (59), who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, would adopt a “humane and sensitive” approach.
Ms Fleming’s solicitors wrote to the DPP last August asking her to set out the factors she would consider in deciding whether to prosecute for assisted suicide. The High Court agreed with the DPP she cannot set out guidelines as that would involve her legislating when the Constitution stipulates making law is solely for the Oireachtas.
However, it said a “different set of affairs” might arise after any event of assisted suicide and provided there was evidence of compliance with guidelines set out by the UK DPP in assisted suicide cases. In those circumstances the DPP was free to exercise her discretion.