The Right to Die

Euthanasia is a “deliberate act or omission whose primary intention is to end another person’s life.” Assisted suicide is a criminal offence under s.2(2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993:

“A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”

The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is that, with euthanasia, the acts of the doctor result in the patient’s death, whereas with assisted suicide, the patient takes the final steps themselves, although with the doctors’ help, who has prescribed the required drug.

Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under Irish law. Euthanasia, depending on varying circumstances, is regarded as either manslaughter or murder and is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Assisted suicide is illegal, even though the person assisted having been asked by the chronically ill person, or did so to be compassionate and end their suffering.

There is a notable difference between acts and omissions leading to death. A person allows someone to die, if they are able to prevent the death, but do not do so. A person kills if they perform an act causing another to die, who would otherwise have not died. The doctrine of double effect must also be considered. This distinguishes between the consequences a person intends and those that are unintended but foreseen.

There is an increasing support for allowing competent adults to make their own medical decisions, even if this may result in their death. People often seek help in taking their own life, due to their illness making them disabled or physically unable to carry the act out themselves.

The issue hasn’t been raised before the Irish courts often and there is an obvious lack of case law in Ireland. The Irish Medical Council have stated, however:

“ You must not participate in the deliberate killing of a patient by active means”.

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Marie Fleming and husband Tom Curran in earlier times. [Image-  Family Handout]

Fleming v Ireland & Ors [2013] is undoubtedly the most well known Irish case on the issue of assisted suicide. Marie Fleming, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, wanted it confirmed by the DPP that if her husband assisted in ending her own life, he wouldn’t be prosecuted. Mrs Fleming failed. The Supreme Court focused on the express right to life in the Constitution and set out that there was:

“no explicit right to commit suicide, or to determine the time of one’s death, in the Constitution”

However, the Supreme Court did say it was the role of the Oireachtas to legislate for such matters.

This case was followed in 2015 by the largely unreported Gail O’ Rorke trail which was the first prosecution under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993. Ms O’ Rorke had attempted to organise a trip to Dignitas in Switzerland for her friend, Ms Forde who had Multiple Sclerosis. The Gardaí intervened and made Ms. O’ Rorke aware that to do so is an offence. She informed the Gardaí of having sent €400 to Mexico on Ms. Fordes’ behalf and said she only later found out it was for a life-ending drug. Ms Forde later went on to take this drug and successfully ended her own life.

Ms Rorke was acquitted of the offence and the jury also found that she was not guilty of “procuring” Ms. Fordes’ death by helping her arrange her funeral.

It is important to remember the differences in circumstances in the Gail O’ Rorke case, and the Fleming case, and to recognise that the O’ Rorke case does not represent a departure from the Irish Courts view on the illegality of assisted suicide and euthanasia in this jurisdiction. The O’ Rorke case simply didn’t amount to “assisting” suicide.

Personally, I would like to see reform in this area. I would like to think that if I had such a debilitating illness, that I would at least have the option to have a family member close by if I did wish to end my suffering. Of course there would be issues with capacity to consent, but given someone had the capacity, I don’t see why they should continue to suffer, or have someone close to them criminalised because they assisted them. To me it seems wrong that if people do wish to end their suffering, they often have to travel alone to places like Dignitas in Zurich.

What is your view on the issue?

(Featured Image: Stock Image – Morguefile)

 

What impact will Brexit have on the ECHR?

Unless you have been hiding in the shadows, you will be aware that on the 24th June 2016, the result of Brexit was announced. Britain voted to leave the European Union. It is estimated that if Britain triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union this month, it could be free of the European Union by 2019, but what would that mean for human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)?

The ECHR was drafted by the Council of Europe and currently has 47 Member States, the UK being one such State. The ECHR sets out fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and the prohibition of torture, and ensures these rights are protected by its Member States. The ECHR is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and is a separate entity from the EU. Therefore by leaving the EU, Britain isn’t free of the ECHR.

If Britain wish to opt out of the ECHR, the Human Rights Act 1998 (which partially integrates the ECHR into domestic law) would have to be repealed. There is some domestic law in place protecting human rights in Britain, such as the Bill of Rights 1698 but this afford citizens a weaker protection than the ECHR.

If Britain left both the EU and the ECHR, there arguably could be a void in human rights legislation. They would be erasing long standing precedent on human rights in their jurisdiction. A new British Bill of Rights has been suggested to remedy this problem. However, an unimaginable amount of consideration would have to go in to such legislation, if it were to effectively replace a major framework such as the ECHR. Critics have expressed fears that a Bill of Rights would weaken the rights afforded to citizens.

It has been suggested that following her 2020 election campaign, Prime Minister Theresa May will set the ball rolling for Britain to leave the ECHR. The rights currently conferred under the ECHR would be instead protected under domestic British law and would be enforced by the Supreme Court, rather that the ECtHR in Strasbourg.

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Westminster & the Houses of Parliament                                               Image-Unsplash

May stated:

 “…..my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

The ECtHR has been condemned by critics who deem it to hinder nation sovereignty and who are frustrated with it for preventing Member States from deporting terrorists and people who pose a threat to them. They are of the belief that it has too much power in governing domestic policy. The Prime Minister was at odds with the ECtHR when she was acting as Home Secretary when it prevented her deporting the radical cleric, Abu Qatada.

Supporters of the ECtHR recognised the vast work the Court have done in recognising the rights of people and especially of marginalized groups within society. Such groups believe that withdrawing from the ECHR would have a significant impact on Britain’s international footing.

It is worth considering that the ECHR was also a major element of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. Withdrawing from the Convention would undoubtedly cause controversy.

Alternatively, once Britain has cut ties with the EU and if it chooses not to repeal the Human Rights Act,  they will continue to be governed by the ECHR which is arguably a safer and more robust option.

What do you think is the best option for Human Rights in Britain? IS the best option to withdraw from the ECHR or is remaining in it a safer option? Let me know in the comments.

Featured Image: Pixabay – https://pixabay.com/en/brexit-exit-united-kingdom-england-1481028/