Thursday, 10 January 2013

A basic human right has been denied

As the High Court in Dublin denies Marie Fleming, who has Multiple Sclerosis, the right to end her life with the assistance of another (see the news piece here) I reflected on the outcome of her case in a piece for the paper I work for ... it's posted below and I have to say it was an extremely difficult piece to compose. But I hope it gets people talking and thinking, not least about MS in general, but about the need for us, in the UK and Ireland, to see that assisted suicide, if requested, is the only dignified option in this situation.


Whenever I hear of a person with Multiple Sclerosis applying to the courts for the ‘right to die’ my heart sinks. It brings home to me, once again, the harrowing side of the illness with which I have been diagnosed for nearly four years.
It pains me to know that someone who is dealing with the effects of MS simply cannot take anymore. 
The illness has many symptoms and many manifestations. Personally, I have relapsing/remitting MS. This means that I have periods when it flares up and times when I thankfully have some respite.
Last year was one in which I unfortunately seemed to be in more periods of relapse rather than respite. And while I had experienced pain before, the levels rachetted up a gear, my medication levels subsequently increased and there were weeks when I had to employ the use of a stick. 
As someone who prides themselves in seeing the positives of any situation, it has to be said that there were times in 2012 when I struggled to find my smile, my verve, my get up and go.
And looking back at those periods of ‘darkness’ there is no doubt that I can see why someone who is constantly in that pain/situation/place would sometimes find it difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
From what I can gather Marie Fleming has found herself in that place. She described her situation to the court extremely eloquently, with the judges accepting that her “body has been ravaged by the insidious disease to the point where she is now almost immobile, that her life has been rendered miserable and that she suffers great pain and distress.”
To hear these words are enough to fill my eyes with tears because I hate to imagine that this is what may lie ahead for, not just me, but for many who have had the unfortunate diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
And it’s even more poignant to know that someone who has faced the illness with such dignity is now saying ‘enough is enough’.
Now that this time has come, Marie is asking the courts to allow her to die with dignity, surrounded by her family, safe in the knowledge that they then would not face imprisonment.
However, this has been denied. This, in spite of the fact that suicide itself is no longer illegal in Ireland. Yet, because Marie is now so ill she finds herself incapable of carrying out that act for herself, she will instead be left in pain and distress until she passes away naturally.
I cannot deny that it’s a hard case to rule on, not least because the courts have a duty of care to those less vulnerable, but in the case of Marie Fleming I cannot help but feel she has been denied a basic human right.
The court itself said that she was “the most remarkable witness which any member of this court has ever been privileged to encounter” and I have silently sat today applauding her courage and determination in taking her case to the High Court.
It pains me to say it, but I believe if I was facing the same situation many years down the line, there is every chance I too would wish to die.
I can understand how the pain would take over. It creeps into every aspect of your life. It makes you weary, it never gives up.
The distress caused by a continued battle against the effects of MS cannot be underestimated. Its symptoms can affect nearly every part of your body. There is the prospect of immobility, loss of eyesight, spasms, bladder and bowel incontinence, nerve pain, fatigue ... the list goes on. 
Thankfully, it’s not a situation I currently find myself in, but the nature of Multiple Sclerosis means that there is no knowing what lies ahead. It’s an illness which simply does its own thing, and no matter how positive and upbeat I try to be, there is also no knowing if the situation Marie Fleming finds herself in would eventually come to my door too. 
I would like to think that if it did, I would be allowed to die in peace and with those I loved at my bedside. As the law currently stands that’s an impossibility.