A constitutional challenge against Ireland’s prohibition on assisted suicide is being launched by Marie Fleming and her husband Tom Curran. Marie suffers from multiple sclerosis and is cared for full time by Tom. They are arguing that Ireland’s 1993 law that bans assisted suicide is unconstitutional because it discriminates against severely disabled individuals. Ireland’s constitution provides for equality, so this case is similar to the Carter case in British Columbia, in which the BC Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s absolute prohibition on assisted suicide was unconstitutional because it discriminated against individuals who, due to severe disability, cannot end their own lives.
There is a key difference between the Canadian case and the Irish case. The Irish case is demedicalised in that it will argue for Marie’s life to be ended with the compassionate assistance of her husband. Canada’s case, brought on by the BC Civil Liberties Association is specifically for physician assistance with suicide and euthanasia.
Tom Curran and Marie Fleming (source, Irish Independent)
The idea of demedicalising assistance with suicide would mean that physicians would not have the discomforting role that the “right to die” often puts on them. Thomas Szasz, a famous professor of psychiatry, has argued that assistance with suicide is an issue for law, politics, and morality, but not medicine. In his 2011 book, Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine, Szasz calls physician assisted suicide “semi-legal bootlegging of barbiturates by doctors.” Szasz says while medical ethicists and civil libertarians see physician assisted suicide as “progress in patient autonomy,” he sees it as “just the opposite.” Szasz says that the voluntary ending of one’s life is the product of a decision, not disease or mental illness, and therefore it is not a medical problem.
The Irish case brought on by Marie Fleming and Thomas Curran is one to watch. Mr. Curran leads the Ireland branch of Exit International and as such will possess insights into non-medical approaches for ending life, discussed in books such as Final Exit and the Peaceful Pill Handbook. The Irish Independent reports that Mr. Curran is prepared to go to jail if it is necessary for him to help his wife to die. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/i-would-risk-jail-to-end-maries-needless-suffering-says-partner-3243856.html