Who Has The Right To Die? :: #MarieFleming Case

I wrote this piece today for the Irish Independent.

The International press gathered at Dublin High Courts on Thursday of this week, to listen to Judge Nicholas Kearns give his verdict on the Marie Fleming “Right to die case”.  Mrs Fleming, a 59 year old former university lecturer suffers from a very severe form of Multiple Sclerosis that has left her in extremely poor health and paralysed.   She has brought her case before the courts making an impassioned plea to establish the right of her partner of 18 years to help her die, an act that could currently see him jailed.  

Assisted suicide is permitted in four European countries Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The debate has played out through recent high-profile court cases in neighbouring Britain, where three people all failed in bids to win legal assistance to die.  

I think everyone would agree that this is a particularly devastating case for Mrs Fleming, her partner and wider family connections and also I would suggest the members of the court who ultimately have to tell this lady what is lawful and acceptable in Irish society, knowing that her quality of life is so bad she is advocating such an extreme measure.

There is no doubt this case has gripped the nation and as a young person six years into a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, I am particularly interested for a range of reasons. I have to say that in some small way I can feel an element of Mrs Flemings pain.  MS can be a really nasty neurological condition and is very prevalent across Ireland.  It is a progressive condition generally and unfortunately Mrs Fleming is in the severely affected category.

Judge Nicholas Kearns said Mrs Fleming was the most remarkable witness any member of the court had encountered and acknowledged that her life has been "rendered miserable" after being "ravaged by an insidious disease".

However, he said it would be impossible to tailor legislation governing assisted suicide on an individual basis and doing so would be harmful to the public interest in protecting the most vulnerable members of society

In many ways there was no right or wrong outcome in a particularly poignant and heart wrenching case of this nature.  If the courts allowed Mrs Flemings partner to assist her in dying, there may have been for one, public outcry and if they turned down the application, Mrs Flemings daily suffering would have to continue and she and her family would leave the courts, in pieces.

Personally I feel life is a gift and although I have no understanding of how miserable and painful Mrs Flemings life had become, my own view would be that the courts had no alternative but to turn down the application.  I do feel that although Mrs Flemings case was so genuine and morally you could argue allowing her partner to assist her with dying peacefully was the correct thing to do; you may have hundreds of these types of cases in the years to come.  The issue would be where would you draw the line and if there was one case that slipped the net, what a great shame that would be.  So on those grounds I have to air on the side of the courts.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2007, my world fell apart.  I was a young man in the prime of my life and those two words in a twenty minute appointment in a Belfast office changed my life forever.  For the next three years I was in a dark place, slipping deeper and deeper into a depressive state.  The illness had robbed me of my career, my family, my health and my dreams.  I had chronic negative thoughts as my symptoms got more difficult to deal with.  In a small way I can understand how Marie is feeling as at times I couldn’t really face the world and didn’t want to go on.  I have to share with you that this is a terrible nearly indescribable place to be and the pain is almost suffocating and unbearable.  Thankfully in my case and after three very difficult years, in 2009 I was able to find the spirit and the willpower to get a plan together and start to fight back against the MS, attempt to get back my life and take control of my mind again.  Over the last three years I have got stronger and fitter and I am very proud now to say I am beating MS every day and for this I am truly grateful.  I know I have a battle on my hands but to be frank I hope that my attitude will give me the artillery to fight whatever the MS decides to throw at me.

However this case brought it home to me, how cruel not only MS can be but how cruel life can be and also the justice system.  Who gives anyone the right to decide on whether someone should continue in so much pain? The answer for me is, we live in a very challenging world and we do need a justice system that attempts to bring some sort of decorum and lawfulness to the way we live our lives.

I just hope that Marie is not in too much pain and she gets the strength and peace of mind to carry on with her life as best she can. My heart goes out to her and her immediate family. 

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