Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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Marie Fleming and the Right to Die

She takes 22 tablets a day, is in constant pain, cannot walk or use limbs, has no bladder control, has seven different carers, and her speech and swallow are both significantly affected. She frequently chokes, the court heard.-  Kildare Nationalist

Marie Fleming went to the High Court in Dublin today. She is a prisoner but not in the conventional sense. She lives her incarceration courtesy of an ailing body from which she wishes to escape at a time of her choosing. Diagnosed in 1986 as suffering from multiple sclerosis she is now in the terminal stages of the illness but does not have the power to end her own life. Guilty of no crime, Irish law has condemned her for what has been inflicted on her rather than what she has inflicted on another.

Faced with that overwhelming threat to her personal autonomy she is requesting that her loved ones be free to enable her to bring her life to an end when she so decides.  The obstacle in her path is the current law which would leave anyone rendering assistance to her liable to prosecution. Section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act ‘renders it an offence to aide, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another.’ The penalty is anything up to 14 years in jail.

Her situation is unenviable. Facing a diminishing quality of life where 'when you have to be showered, toileted and fed you start to feel like a nobody,' she remains in control of her senses and wants to die before ‘I more than likely could choke to death, where my swallow would stop and then the saliva would dribble out of my mouth or choke me to death.’

It is the first time a case of this type has been taken in Ireland. On previous occasions Irish citizens denied the right to an assisted death in their own country felt compelled to travel to Ludwig Mineli’s Dignitas clinic in Zurich. However Marie Fleming who joined Dignitas five years ago, said she did not want to die ‘in an industrial estate far from home.’

Although the criminalisation of suicide was dropped in 1993, a prohibition on assisting someone to die continues to remain in place. Marie Fleming is challenging its constitutionality on the grounds that it discriminates against disabled people. Her partner who is willing to assist her to bring her life to a close, Tom Curran, has claimed ‘her rights have been taken away, the right to take her own life has been taken away because of her disability.’

In her drive for a just outcome she is also supported by her children:

A lot of tears were shed and a lot of questions asked, but they see me and know how my life has deteriorated to such an extent that I can't help myself with even just minor things like showering.

Yet they too would face prosecution and possible imprisonment were they to be present in the room with her where someone was helping her to die.

In recent weeks it has become clear that for all the serial bobbing and weaving of its governments Irish society stands poised to push back the boundaries that encroach on personal autonomy. That a disabled dying Irish woman has stepped into the breach to assert the rights of all is at the same time inspirational and infuriating. She does so because she must. That she must is shameful.

12 comments:

michaelhenry said...

AM-

It is a great gift to be alive but it should always be a persons own decision when and how they want to die when the pain gets to much-it is Marie Fleming's body so it is her choice-

Saying that-i dont think i could help any one-family or friend to die no matter about their pain-but i would not be against anyone who did want to give that little help as long as i was sure that the dying person wanted to die with dignity and peace-

itsjustmacker said...

heart rendering, and, breaking.
This brave Lady should have the legal right for the assistance of her partner to go to everlasting sleep in peace, No one wants to die a horrible and painful death, I for one don't, suffered enough from 1969. But that is beside the point of this Ladies plight, There is no law in Ireland that states that it is a crime for anyone to commit suicide, which is obvious, they cant be charged with the crime of murdering themselves. As this lady states, she wants to have her last days at home, with her devoted partner and her children, The Irish Courts MUST give this lady her LEGAL RIGHT to determine when and how she wants to leave this earth in peace. when those who are sitting to determine this brave woman's request and they are at Mass, and the priest says "Peace be with you", Remember that is all which this lady ask's for, PEACE!>

marty said...

The next time we feel like shit through the aftereffects of drink or unwell with the flu we should turn our minds to what this woman is going through,her condition is not an opinion or mental state than can be changed or healed through drugs or counselling,Marie,s body is a car crash a total write of, and the woman should be given the dignity of being allowed to be free from the torment it gives her, we would not let a dog suffer like this,good luck to you Marie if I had money I,d pay your fare to Switzerland..

marty said...

A P.S. I meant to add that had I the money and Marie felt she had no other option than to travel to Switzerland then I,d gladly pay for her trip, I agree with Marie when she says she wants to end her days here with her family and in familiar surroundings,and her wishes should be granted....

Mary Marshall said...

Those who oppose so strongly a choice to end one’s life NB due to terminal illness - at a stage where quality of life is zero and progression of deterioration escalating may one day find their own selves in the same situation as Marie Fleming. She has every right to death with dignity and cognitive abilities intact so she can farewell loved ones and make decisions prior to death. This obsession with keeping terminally ill alive to the bitter end is disgusting and unrealistic.

Everyone who works or has worked in terminal care knows that medications are staggered and essentially terminally ill patients are overdosed as they deteriorate. Motor neuron disease is also a cruel bastard of a disease as like MS cognitive abilities can be intact often up to near the end... Trapped in a flesh hell and knowing it... Who can judge another for choosing death by choice with dignity when there is nothing left but death awaiting... So sad the whole situation – but none more so than for her... A brave woman in all senses.

When i was in my 20’s working in terminal care I had to restrain an elderly man dying from motor neuron disease from jumping to his death. I hated myself as he cried and begged me to let him die. This was in the era where there was nought to access for death with dignity – he was desperate for an end to his living hell... The cruellest part was within his rotting body was an intact brain and a bright one at that. One of course can state that ethically/professionally i did the right thing but i also say that I failed him or rather society did...

This dammed obsession with keeping the dying alive... Half the time patients were kept alive because it was more about testing medications than any ethical standards or religious moral convictions and such. Did he not have the right to a death with dignity and make his choices how and when...
The outcomes of this case are going to set a precedent... i believe she will win this case and I hope with all my heart for her and her partner and fam that she does.

Australian site: CAVE – Christians supporting choice for voluntary euthanasia is very worthy of a lookin. I am a Christian and support the right of the dying to a death with dignity of their choice.

http://www.christiansforve.org.au/AboutUs.html

Organized Rage said...

I worry about this greatly, of course everyone should have the right to take their own life but if we need legislation to achieve this it makes me feel very uncomfortable. [Nazi Germany springs to mind?]

Can we really trust future governments with such legislation, if the answer is yes the draughtsmen/women of such a bill must get national approval in a referendum before it becomes law.

A great Spanish anarchist who became Minister of justice in the Spanish republic government for a short time, once said all you need to sit in judgement of your fellow man is a good heart or some such.

Is it beyond the judiciary and prosecuting services to judge someone fairly who helps someone whose life has become intolerable on there way. Do we need a law to decide when an individual has done the right thing?

Look at how governments today are beginning to treat the sick and disabled, could we really trust such people with the power of a euthanasia law.

I have a family member who is afraid to go in hospital as she is fearful they will give her morphine to ease her out and despite suffering pain she still refuses to go. I am certain many more elderly people would feel like her were there to be a euthanasia law

I have no answer, but I do know we must debate this openly and argue all the arguments through. History teaches bad law is passed on a worst case scenario. Having said that my heart goes out to Marie Fleming and I hope her suffering soon ends.

AM said...

Mick/Organized Rage,

I see how people are concerned about the slippery slope. But rights that are not enshrined in law are tenuous and more susceptible to abuse. We don’t seek legislation for the state to kill but for people to end their own lives if they reach the point ... As it stands the state can punish people who assist. Legislation that denies the state the right to punish these people is required.

Nazi Germany is not the best of comparisons. There the state was legislating not for the right of the individual but for the stat’s right to deny the individual any right in the matter.

Legislation helps because it defines the terms where it might be carried out rather than let it go ahead laissez faire which increases the likelihood that so called friends or family can bump the loved one off on the basis of some stated common agreement.

A great Spanish anarchist who became Minister of justice in the Spanish republic government for a short time, once said all you need to sit in judgement of your fellow man is a good heart or some such.

Up until they start trying to make you good in their good image. The thoughts of Amos Oz as outlined by Robert spring to mind. A greater danger than legislating for individual rights against and freedoms from the state.

Look at how governments today are beginning to treat the sick and disabled, could we really trust such people with the power of a euthanasia law.

I think this is the opposite of what is being argued. It is precisely to stop this type of treatment being inflicted on Marie Fleming that the case is being taken.

I have a family member who is afraid to go in hospital as she is fearful they will give her morphine to ease her out and despite suffering pain she still refuses to go. I am certain many more elderly people would feel like
her were there to be a euthanasia law.


That is her right. It is also the right of the person to have morphine to ease them out if that is their choice. This easing out goes on with or without legislation. In our own family history the doctor explained the consequences of his further administering of pain relief.

I have no answer, but I do know we must debate this openly and argue all the arguments through.

Couldn’t agree more.

Organized Rage said...

AM

Just to be clear I am not against the use of morphine indeed it is a wonderful drug for both the terminally ill and those who live with great pain. The problem is the use of it often puts the fear of god into the medical profession due to the prohibition of Heroin and the reactionary propagada which goes with it.

It is the most effective pain killer in the world yet most doctors in the USA fear to go near it or are banned from using it. The fact millions of people around the world still unnecessarily die in pain is an outrage.

The only point I would stress again on this matter, it its imperative any bill which would allow an assisted death, etc, must be adequately drafted and when it becomes law is adhered to rigidly.

AM said...

Michaelhenry,

your position seems fine to me. It is always good to know our limitations and many of us may only discover them when that moment comes.

Mary

This obsession with keeping terminally ill alive to the bitter end is disgusting and unrealistic.

I agree. It is agony affirming not life affirming. That was a moving experience you described. At crunch time the decision is never easy.

Mick,

I think the law has to be made clear and well debated in advance.

michaelhenry said...

AM-

A friend once said to me that death looks at us each day to which i replied-but life also looks
at us each day- [ bit of a martyr complex about said friend ]



" when that momment comes "

You can say a lot with one sentence

AM said...

Mary,

This obsession with keeping terminally ill alive to the bitter end is disgusting and unrealistic.

I agree.

itsjustmacker said...

I know I posted on this once, but a thought just came to me, What right did they have to execute those dissenters when nothing was wrong with them, they executed more Irish than the British did, So I wish this lady would bring that to there attention and state, some of your fathers and grandfathers carried out the executions on Irish Dissenters and they were not even ill.