This morning, a three-judge High Court delivered its judgment in Fleming v Ireland. The Court ruled that the criminal prohibition on assisted suicide did not violate the Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights. In light of the case’s importance and the general public interest in it, the judges took the unusual, but very sensible, step of providing a summary of the judgment here. The lengthy full judgment of the President of the High Court is available here.
The Court applied a proportionality test to the applicant’s claim that the ban on assisted suicide violated her right to personal autonomy, and ruled that the prohibition was a rational and proportionate response to the need to protect vulnerable potential victims. Here’s a crucial excerpt from the decision:
75. The prohibition on assisted suicide is rationally connected to [the] fundamental objective of protecting life and is not remotely based on arbitrary, unfair or irrational considerations. The Court appreciates, of course, that from Ms. Fleming’s perspective it seems unfair that she is condemned by the law and society to endure that which, for the rest of the able-bodied population, we could not endure and would not personally tolerate.
76. Yet the fact remains that if this Court were to unravel a thread of this law by even the most limited constitutional adjudication in her favour, it would – or, at least, might – open a Pandora’s Box which thereafter would be impossible to close. In particular, by acting in a manner designed to respect her conscientious claims and to relieve her acute suffering and distress, this Court might thereby place the lives of others at risk. The Court is well aware that such is not the intention of Ms. Fleming and we are fully conscious that those who urge such change profoundly disclaim any such intention. But such might well be the unintended effect of such a change, specifically because of the inability of even the most rigorous system of legislative checks and balances to ensure, in particular, that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and the emotionally vulnerable would not disguise their own personal preferences and elect to hasten death so as to avoid a sense of being a burden on family and society. The safeguards built into any liberalised system would, furthermore, be vulnerable to laxity and complacency and might well prove difficult or even impossible to police adequately.
77. For all of these reasons, the Court considers that the absolute prohibition on assisted suicide also satisfies the second and third limbs of the proportionality test. It follows, therefore, that we find ourselves compelled to reject the constitutional challenge insofar as it concerns the claim based on the protection of the person in Article 40.3.2 (including overlapping and ancillary rights, such as dignity and bodily integrity).
The case will presumably be before the Supreme Court in relatively short order.