Supreme Court dismisses assisted suicide case appeal

The Supreme Court today dismissed the appeal in the case of Marie Fleming v Ireland and the Attorney General in which the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) had appeared as amicus curiae after liberty was granted to it to so appear by the Court. 

The case involved a challenge to the law criminalising assisted suicide. The proceedings turned on the question whether the Plaintiff, in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and physically incapable of ending her own life, has a right to assisted suicide, if this is the conscious decision she makes. 

The case was originally heard in the High Court in November 2012. The Plaintiff claimed that the blanket ban on assisted suicide breaches her constitutional rights and her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The High Court rejected her claim finding that it was not possible to relax the ban on assisted suicide without very profound consequences for the law in general, and that ultimately the Oireachtas was justified in keeping an absolute ban in place. The Plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court which heard the case over 5 days in late February. 

In its Judgment, the Court ruled that there was no constitutional right under Article 40.3 of the Constitution “either to commit suicide, or to arrange for the termination of one’s life at a time of one’s choosing.” The Court also ruled on the Article 40.1 equality ground that insofar as there was no right to commit suicide or to choose to terminate one’s life, issues such as discrimination did not arise. It also found that there does not exist a constitutional right for a limited class of persons as such rights must be the entitlement of all persons. 

Before the Supreme Court, the IHRC made written and oral submissions in relation to the constitutional right to equality as it applies to individuals in the circumstances of the Plaintiff, and also the right to autonomy and bodily integrity. 

The IHRC had urged the Court to consider both direct and indirect discrimination  under the right to equality and in testing whether the right to equality had been breached to apply a two step process under which, once a right is engaged, an interference with the right must be justified and proportionate in order to avoid discrimination. 

The primary purpose of the IHRC’s intervention was to assist the court in reaching the correct conclusion from a human rights perspective; that is, to apply a human rights perspective in balancing the competing interests at issue. 

The Supreme Court Judgment is now available.

The IHRC’s submissions are now available.

 

ENDS/ 

For more information, please contact Fidelma Joyce, IHRC Tel: 01 8589601 Mob: 087 783 4939

 Notes to Editor

This is the IHRC’s sixteenth intervention in the Superior Courts as amicus curiae further to section 8(h) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000.

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