There is no way that we can ever understand what Marie Fleming and her family are going through. We can never know what it is like, unless, heaven forbid, we are thrust into such a situation ourselves.
Imagine if tomorrow your mother turned around to you and told you that she wanted to end her life. Or your brother, your sister, your friend. How would you feel?
Now imagine that she has been immobilised in her body for a long time and that you have watched her suffer. Imagine that she was a smart and successful woman for many years, living an active, social and happy life until she was struck down by the debilitating disease that is MS, or multiple sclerosis. Imagine that you watched her going in and out of hospital for test after test, check-up after check-up.
Imagine how you watched her slow down. Imagine that you were there as various parts of her body failed her one by one. How she became tired after the least bit of activity. How she grew short of breath. How her pastimes and pleasures became inaccessible to her. How she had to retire from the life that she’d lived with such vigour, confined to a chair. Imagine that she was frustrated and angry, and that every day you saw the pain in her eyes.
Marie Fleming’s appeal for euthanasia appeared before the Supreme Court on Tuesday 26 February. Suicide was decriminalised in Irish law in 1993, but helping someone to end their life can still result in up to 14 years’ jail time.
Ms Fleming wants her partner Tom Curran to assist her to end her life. She cites her extreme pain, her loss of dignity and a huge frustration at the life she is being forced to lead as reasons for this. She says that she has had a good life, but that she gets no enjoyment or pleasure from it anymore. She is paralysed in all her limbs. She is physically unable to do almost anything, including commit suicide.
She does not want to die the long, drawn out, painful death that can occur as a result of MS. She wants to die peacefully at home with her partner at a time of her choosing. She is begging the state to allow her the chance to do this without fearing that Mr Curran will end up in jail.
This is why Marie Fleming is bringing this case to court.
Her pain is not the sort that can be removed with drugs or therapy or other treatments. Until the day that she dies, Marie Fleming will wake up to a body that cannot move. Soon she will lose powers of communication. She will be a prisoner in her own skin. She will not be able to actively engage in life, but she will be living. It is like the plot of a horror film.
I do not think that life should be taken for granted. I do not believe in or condone suicide. However, I do believe in the power of the law to do good. There is not always a black and white. There are many shades of grey. This is one of those shades. Irish law and euthanasia are likely to be at odds for a long time to come – but right now, to force Marie Fleming to live on in this pain, suffering and misery when it is not what she wants is a grave mistake.