Marie Fleming's lawyers claim she faces painful death

Marie Fleming and Tom Curran
Image caption Marie Fleming wants her partner Tom Curran to be allowed to help her die

A terminally ill woman believes she faces a painful, humiliating and distressing death unless her partner can assist her suicide, the Irish Supreme Court has heard.

Marie Fleming, 59, a former lecturer from County Wicklow, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986.

Last month she lost a High Court action that sought to establish her partner's legal right to help her die if and when she chooses.

She is challenging that decision.

Suicide was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993. But the ban on assisting another person to commit suicide remains in force and a jail sentence of up to 14 years may be imposed for that offence.

Ms Fleming, who has two adult children, is cared for by her partner, Tom Curran.

She is challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993, alleging it discriminates between able-bodied and disabled people.

In December, Ms Fleming told a three judge division of the High Court court the ban on assisted suicide was forcing her to live against her will in a life of pain and indignity.

The former lecturer is almost completely physically incapable and would need help to take her own life.

Lawyers for Ms Fleming are appealing to seven judges for her to be allowed to die peacefully at home in the arms of her partner without him facing the threat of jail.

The court was told that Ms Fleming, who is not attending the three-day hearing, is confined to a wheelchair, physically helpless, lives in constant pain, cannot swallow and suffers choking sessions which wear her out.


Brian Murray, senior counsel, said his client has between months and two years left to live with her incurable illness and that her condition is rapidly deteriorating.

"She faces a death which she believes will be painful, humiliating and distressing," he said.

"She wishes to end her life and to die, not as and when her body is overwhelmed by her disease and at the culmination of the suffering which she presently experiences, but instead to die peacefully and at a time and in a manner of her own choosing.

"What she asks is not to have another person kill her. She wishes to, and can, take the decisive physical step herself.

"However her physical condition is so that she cannot end her life without assistance."

The appeal was fast-tracked through the legal system after three judges at the High Court in Dublin ruled last month that they could not support allowing a third party to bring about the death of another.

But they agreed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in this of all cases, would exercise discretion in a humane and sensitive fashion as to whether to prosecute or not.

In its January ruling, High Court judges described Ms Fleming as one of the most remarkable witnesses they ever had the privilege to encounter.

The judges agreed a competent adult had the right to refuse medical treatment even if it led to death, but the taking of active steps by a third party to bring about the death of another was entirely a different matter, the court ruled.

They said if the court could tailor-make a solution that would affect Ms Fleming only without implications for third parties there might be a good deal to be said for her case. But the court ruled it could not be so satisfied.

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