Will Marie Fleming Right-To-Die Case Live On?

Author:Ms Rebecca Ryan

Marie Fleming's challenge under Irish law to the ban on assisted suicide came to an end on April 29 2013. The Supreme Court sympathised with the appellant's plight but was ultimately constrained by its constitutional obligations to protect public health and safety.

The appellant stated that her claim did not seek to legalise euthanasia but instead aimed to prevent the criminalisation of those providing assistance to the narrow sector of society who, due to degenerative and terminal illness, require assistance in ending their lives.

Assisting a person to commit suicide is a criminal offence under Section 2(2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993. The appellant argued that the High Court erred in finding the ban constitutional and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Interestingly, the appellant did not appeal against the High Court's refusal to direct the director of public prosecutions to publish guidelines on the factors considered in deciding whether to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.


In her submissions, the appellant 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. She also argued that 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 the appellant the right to be assisted in taking her own life.

The appellant also argued that the ban violated her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The court agreed with the European Court of Human Rights decision in Pretty v United Kingdom, which found that although Article 2 of the convention 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. The court also agreed with the European Court of Human Rights' stance on the right to privacy under Article 8 of the convention, which confirms that member states have a wide margin of appreciation where serious harm, such as death, is involved.

Questions in the Dáil

Overall, the court found no jurisprudence to allow an ad hoc system of constitutional...

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