Thursday, January 10, 2013

irish high court: absolute ban on assisted suicide 'justified'

The Irish High Court has rejected the legal challenge by a woman in final stages of MS that the absolute ban on assisted suicide infringed her rights to personal autonomy and her equality rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. The court said Marie Fleming was 'in many ways the most remarkable witness which any member of this Court has ever been privileged to encounter' and that 'her courage in adversity is both humbling and inspiring.'  

The Court recognised that the legal position might seem 'unfair' from Ms Fleming's perspective. However

'it considers that there are here powerful countervailing considerations which fully justify the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) in enacting legislation such as the 1993 Act which makes the assistance of suicide a criminal offence. Like Rehnquist C.J. in Glucksberg, the Court believes there is a real and defining difference between a competent adult patient making the decision not to continue medical treatment on the one hand – even if death is the natural, imminent and foreseeable consequence of that decision - and the taking of active steps by another to bring about the end of that life of the other. The former generally involves the passive acceptance of the natural process of dying, a fate that will ultimately confront us all, whereas the latter involves the active ending of the life of another - a totally different matter.'

The justices went on to say:
'If this Court could tailor-make a solution which would suit the needs of Ms. Fleming alone without any possible implications for third parties or society at large, there might be a good deal to be said for her Article 40.3.2 case. But this Court cannot be so satisfied.

The detailed evidence available to us demonstrates that the State has established an ample evidential basis to support the view that any relaxation of the ban would be impossible to tailor to individual cases and would be inimical to the public interest in protecting the most vulnerable members of society. The evidence from other countries shows that the risks of abuse are all too real and cannot be dismissed as speculative or distant. One real risk attending such liberalisation is that even with the most rigorous system of legislative checks and safeguards, it would be impossible to ensure that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of this option in order to avoid a sense of being a burden on their family and society. The safeguards built into any liberalised system would, furthermore, be vulnerable to laxity and complacency and might well prove difficult or even impossible to police adequately.'


' ... the State has a profound and overwhelming interest in safeguarding the sanctity of all human life ... In the eyes of the Constitution, the last days of the life of an elderly, terminally ill and disabled patient facing death have the same value, possess the same intrinsic human dignity and naturally enjoy the same protection as the life of the healthy young person on the cusp of adulthood and in the prime of their life. These are, of course, concerns which any free and democratic society must strive to protect and uphold.'

To boil it down: it might seem hard that someone in Ms Fleming's situation, who truly wishes to die, is prevented from having help in doing so. But there is no way allow her that help that would not create the real circumstances, as demonstrated by what has happened elsewhere, where the vulnerable would be pressured into being 'assisted' into their graves prematurely. Therefore 'assisted suicide' must remain a criminal offense.

Or, to put it even more simply: thou shalt not kill; no exceptions allowed.

read a summary of the judgement here
read the full judgement here

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