Ireland’s high court says no to woman seeking help to die

MS patient’s partner suggests they’ll act anyway

DUBLIN — A paralyzed woman who wants to die cannot commit suicide with her partner’s help, Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a case that moved some in the courtroom to tears.

The seven-judge court said nothing in the country’s 1937 constitution could authorize the deliberate taking of a life on humanitarian grounds. It said lawmakers could pass such a law to permit 59-year-old Marie Fleming to die at a time of her choosing, but no such statute existed yet.

Fleming, a former University College Dublin lecturer who is unable to move from the neck down because of advanced multiple sclerosis, testified her life had been reduced to irreversible agony and she fears choking to death because she can’t swallow.


Her lawyers argue suicide is not a crime in Ireland, therefore a disabled person unable to end his or her own life should receive that help to be equal under the law. They also contend Fleming’s right to personal autonomy under the European Convention on Human Rights was being violated.

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Chief Justice Susan Denham said European Union law permits nations to set their own policies on euthanasia, and the Irish constitution contains ‘‘no explicit right to commit suicide or to determine the time of one’s own death.’’

As Denham read the judgment, Fleming’s partner, Tom Curran, and the couple’s three adult children cried and held hands. Fleming could not come to the courthouse because, Curran said, she was battling a chest infection that itself might prove lethal.

After phoning Fleming to say the verdict was as they both had expected, Curran said the couple was determined to end her life at their home in County Wicklow. If charged and convicted of assisting suicide, Curran would face a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

‘‘It’s very difficult to understand how a person with a disability can be deprived of something that’s legally available to everybody else,” Curran said. “For that not to be discriminatory under the constitution, that’s something we fail to understand. The constitution is there to protect people like Marie and to give them solace that they will be looked after.


‘‘We will now go back to Wicklow and live our lives until such time as Marie makes up her mind that she’s had enough. And in that case, the court will have an opportunity to decide on my future.’’

The family’s lawyers say they could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. But Curran said that might be too great an ordeal for his partner.

Most of the world has not legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have legalized the practice, as have the US states of Montana, Oregon, and Washington, all under restricted circumstances.

Fleming said she seriously considered killing herself three years ago, when she could have done this on her own, but Curran persuaded her to desist. She said she regrets that decision.

The Irish Human Rights Commission testified in support of her claim. Catholic conservatives, opposed to euthanasia, welcomed the verdict.