Landmark Assisted Suicide Case Unanimously Rejected By High Court

Author:Mr Tom Hayes and Rebecca Ryan

On 10 January 2013 the landmark case brought by Ms Fleming, challenging the constitutionality of the absolute ban on assisted suicide under section 2 (2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 (the "Act"), was unanimously rejected by the High Court. The court held that the ban on assisted suicide did not disproportionately infringe on Ms Fleming's rights under the Constitution and was justifiable in the public interest to protect vulnerable people. Marie Fleming, a 59 year old mother of two was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS") in 1989. She is now in the final stages of the disease, requiring assistance with all aspects of day-to-day living. She sought a declaration from the court that the ban on assisted suicide was unconstitutional and incompatible with her rights pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR"). In the alternative, Ms Fleming sought an order directing the DPP to issue guidelines regarding the factors to be considered in deciding whether or not to prosecute an individual for assisting or aiding a person to end their life. The High Court considered personal autonomy enshrined in Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution, to be the crux of the constitutional challenge. Particular emphasis was placed on the distinction between a competent adult refusing medical treatment, which is protected by the Constitution and the taking of "active steps" by another person to end the life of that competent person. The High Court was mindful of the protections afforded to an individual in protecting the...

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