DUBLIN - An Irish woman terminally ill with multiple sclerosis lost her battle for the lawful right to die in the first case of its kind to be brought in Ireland, Dublin's High Court said on Thursday.
Marie Fleming, a 59-year-old former university lecturer who is completely paralysed, made an impassioned plea last month to establish the right of her partner of 18 years to help her die, an act that could currently see him jailed in mainly Roman Catholic Ireland.
A 'right to die' debate has played out through recent high-profile court cases in neighbouring Britain, where three people all failed in bids to win legal assistance to die. Assisted suicide is only permitted in four European countries: Belgium; Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Judge Nicholas Kearns said Fleming was the most remarkable witness any member of the court had encountered and acknowledged that her life has been "rendered miserable" after being "ravaged by an insidious disease".
However he said it would be impossible to tailor legislation governing assisted suicide on an individual basis and doing so would be harmful to the public interest in protecting the most vulnerable members of society.
"There are no words to express the difficulty we had in arriving at this decision," Kearns said, reading a summary of the 121-page judgement.
"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 would be impossible to close."
Suicide was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, but the ban on helping someone to commit suicide remains, with a jail sentence of up to 14 years.
Kearns said he felt sure the state, which agreed to pay all legal costs, would exercise its discretion in a humane and sensitive fashion in deciding whether to prosecute if Fleming were to be assisted in taking her own life.
The mother of two adult children had told the court in a composed manner last month how her life had become totally undignified and too painful to bear, and said she had planned every detail, including funeral arrangements.
Her partner hugged and kissed her after the judgement was handed out and, reading a statement on her behalf outside the court, her solicitor said Fleming greatly appreciated the enormous support she had received from members of the public.
"Obviously Marie is very disappointed and saddened at today's outcome, and feels it would be inappropriate at the present time to discuss any specific legal aspects of the case having regard to the likelihood of an appeal," solicitor Bernadette Parte said.
A recent poll found that large majorities of west Europeans favour the legalisation of assisted suicide.
As well as in the four European countries, assisted suicide is also legal in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.
The issue of amending the Irish constitution has also been highlighted recently following the death of a woman who was refused an abortion of her dying foetus, re-igniting a debate that has divided the country for decades.