The partner of Marie Fleming, the woman with multiple sclerosis who lost a right-to-die challenge in the Supreme Court last April, has vowed to continue her campaign.
Tom Curran, 65, said Ms Fleming’s condition had deteriorated in the past fortnight and she had experienced the “peaceful death in her own home” that she had fought for.
However, speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Curran said he would continue to take part in a campaign to decriminalise assisted suicide. “We have raised awareness. What happens now is what matters. I would still feel the fight needs to be continued as there are others who still need this. It would be unfair to Marie’s memory to walk away from that now.”
Ms Fleming, 59, died at her home in Arklow, Co Wicklow, just after 5.30am yesterday. The former lecturer in business studies at UCD is survived by her daughter Corrinna and son Simon, as well as her partner.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday led tributes to Ms Fleming, describing her right-to-die campaign as brave and courageous.
“While pursuing her campaign — at both political and legal levels — was always going to be a challenge, her deeply-held conviction meant it was one she was never going to back away from. Marie successfully highlighted the complex issues that affect people who find themselves in a situation like hers, and the fact that her case has kick-started a national debate on these matters will be her lasting legacy,” said Mr Gilmore.
Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on health, also paid tribute. “Marie Fleming battled her illness with fortitude and great dignity,” he said.
“Her campaign brought important issues into the public domain and she, along with her partner Tom, displayed huge courage throughout.”
Ms Fleming suffered from MS for more than 25 years and was in constant pain up to the day she died. Despite this, she found the strength to pursue a lengthy campaign to allow her partner assist her in taking her life without fear of his prosecution.
Ms Fleming took a landmark case to the High Court last year arguing that the criminal ban on assisted suicide breached her constitutional rights and discriminated against her as a disabled person.
The three-judge High Court described Ms Fleming as one of the most remarkable witnesses it had ever heard.
President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, described her courage as “both humbling and inspiring”.
However, the High Court ruled against her, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision last April. The seven judges of the Supreme Court said there was no constitutional right to die or to be assisted to do so.
A month later, Ms Fleming, in an interview with Miriam Donohoe of the Irish Independent, revealed she and her partner had chosen a method that she would use to end her own life, despite the Supreme Court decision.
They did not disclose the precise form it would take other than that they used a suicide self-help guide, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, as a reference.
Ms Fleming indicated that she would use the method if she developed locked-in syndrome, or degenerated to the point where she could neither talk, listen, nor see.
Ms Fleming’s courage was further tested last month when the HSE demanded proof of her condition to retain her medical card.
Health Minister James Reilly later apologised.
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