Marie Fleming Appeal On Assisted Suicide

Author:Mr Tom Hayes and Rebecca Ryan
Profession:Matheson
 
FREE EXCERPT

Marie Fleming's challenge to the ban on assisted suicide, under section 2(2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 (the "Act"), came to an end on 29 April 2013. The Supreme Court sympathised with Ms Fleming's plight but was ultimately constrained by its constitutional obligations to protect public health and safety. Ms Fleming stated that her claim does not seek to legalise euthanasia but instead aims to prevent criminalisation of those providing assistance to the narrow sector of society, who due to degenerative and terminal illness, require assistance in taking steps to end their life. She argued the High Court erred in finding the ban constitutional and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR"). Interestingly, Ms Fleming did not appeal against the High Court's refusal to direct the Director of Public Prosecutions ("DPP") to publish guidelines on the factors considered in deciding whether or not to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.

Submissions

In her submissions, Ms Fleming relied heavily on the right to life in Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution. However, the Court found that the right to life does not import a corresponding right to die. Ms Fleming further argued the ban amounted to indirect discrimination in breach of Article 40.1 of the Constitution as an able-bodied person could take the necessary steps to end their own life lawfully, however, a person with a disability who attempts to do the same, with the assistance of another, strays into the parameters of criminality. The Court ultimately held that the principle of equal treatment does not allow Ms Fleming the right to be assisted in taking her own life. Ms Fleming also argued the ban violated her rights under the ECHR. The Court agreed with the European Court of Human Right's ("ECtHR") decision in Pretty v United Kingdom which found that, although Article 2 of the ECHR places an onus on a Member State to protect a person's right to life, it did not find a corresponding obligation to protect a person's right to die...

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