A Matter of Life and Death
viagra serif;”>Tom Curran speaks with Peter Hamilton about the right to die
Tom Curran is a phenomenal example of how selfless individuals can be. His life now consists of looking after his long-term partner, Marie Fleming, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Tom spoke exclusively to the College Tribune on Ireland’s right to die legislation, on what life is like as a full-time carer, and about how he hopes Ireland can progress with its current legal situation with regard to right to die laws after attending a conference in Zurich at which he spoke on the same subject matter.
As a full time carer the focus of Tom’s life has gradually changed. Tom used to design computer systems and he misses that aspect in his life, “I miss the mental challenge of being involved in something like that, I don’t regret it, but I miss it… I wouldn’t have it any other way because if I wasn’t around to look after Marie the chances are that she would either be dead or be in an institution.” Tom enjoys having his partner at home, for him it seems as though there are no other options. He doesn’t want Marie to be in what he calls a home; he says that she is already in a home, “our home.”
Marie Fleming, who formerly lectured in UCD, was initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. This condition of MS is one in which symptoms appear (a relapse), and then fade away, either partially or completely (remitting). This condition has since advanced into progressive MS. “It was very sad [to see the transition into progressive MS], while a lot of people, including ourselves, tend to hope rather than deny that it won’t get as bad as it does in some cases; we could see the progression.” Instead of the relapse that Marie was having, when she moved into progressive MS, which Tom aptly calls digressive, parts of her body began to cease to work. As they stopped to work her bodily functions did not come back. Although Marie can still communicate and her brain and nerves work, she can’t move her arms or legs. Despite these restrictions Marie loves to get out. On a nice day she can be brought into the garden that has been made fully accessible through a patio from her bedroom. Their children live in Ireland so that is also helpful for when they want to meet.
Tom believes that the medication to slow down the action of MS is advancing. However, when Marie was first diagnosed he says that the drugs weren’t sufficient, “the drugs only came on the scene about twelve or thirteen years ago and they have improved a lot but unfortunately they were too late for Marie.” Because the disease is neurological and effects different people in different ways Tom finds that a lot of the medication at the moment is experimental.
In its current format, legislation provides that a person cannot aid, abet, counsel or procure the death of another. As a result, Tom could face a prison sentence if he defies any of the above criteria. He sees any help that he could provide as an act of love between spouses, “the whole idea of helping her with what she wants, if she wants, when she wants… is to me, because I do love her, something that would conform to her wishes.” At no point in our interview has Tom referred to his own wishes. He seems happy to correspond to what Marie wants but on the subject of helping her to do what she would like he shows his love for his partner. “I don’t want her to die…I’m very selfish in saying that I want Marie to be around forever but none of us are going to be around forever.” Tom is certainly the polar opposite of selfish and he says that he is lucky that death is something that he and Marie quite openly talk about, “one of the big fears for Marie is if I should die before she does because that leaves her in complete limbo, while I have offered to help, she may not get that offer from somebody else.” For Tom and Marie, death is a topic that comes up from time to time and Tom accepts when Marie says that she will know when she is ready to die. When they started to talk about it first Marie said that if she got to certain conditions she would want to go and Tom is pleased to say, “thankfully we have gone past a lot of those.”
Opposition to instances of individuals seeking the right to die comes in various forms and Tom thinks that the main reason for opposition is on the back of peoples moral values, “I have absolutely no difficulty with anybody having a set of moral values that they want to live by but they shouldn’t necessarily impose those moral values on others.” Tom respects the views of others but says that he feels that each and every person should have the right to autonomy of their own life. He feels that the lack of legislation in this area is due to a fear on behalf of the legislators, “I got involved in the right to die movement because there wasn’t anybody that was prepared to talk and it’s an issue that affects an awful lot of people.”
Tom hopes for guidelines from the legislators for this subject in the future. He seeks these guidelines to protect a direct friend or relative of the person wishing to end their own life but says that even those guidelines aren’t enough because those friends or relatives need help from third parties to obtain drugs which can help people to have a peaceful death. He says, “People think that it is so simple to end your life peacefully and painlessly. If it is so simple then why do we have all of these people committing suicide so horrifically? It’s not that simple so help is needed.”
While there is a clinic in Zurich (Dignitas), which aids a person to end his or her own life, he finds that this is no longer an option for Marie, saying, “I persuaded Marie not to go to Dignitas on the basis that I would help her and she didn’t want to have to travel outside, she wanted to die in the comfort of her own home and she didn’t want a situation where there was a possible prosecution for people who were with her when she died.”
The right to die was something that Tom never thought about prior to meeting Marie, but because of the way in which he thinks, and after having always been involved with some sort of rights issue (Tom has worked with the charity Concern and was involved in the Dublin Housing Action committee in the 1960s amongst many other organisations), he says, “it didn’t take much thinking on my part to realise that this was a right that a person should have.” Tom never wants to infringe on other peoples beliefs. He thinks that people should have beliefs and that is their business. He supports their beliefs but doesn’t want those beliefs imposed on him. He says that if this issue is ever legislated for there needs to be a system of protection, “I completely understand the concept of protection and even if assisted suicide is allowed in law it could be abused and people need to be protected from that, but I have no doubt that our legislators are intelligent enough to include that.”
Tom constantly works to enhance the rights of people within the right to die cause through his work with ‘Exit international.’ He is an incredible man for whom there is currently no sufficient ending to this cause in sight. For now Tom’s concentration is in looking after his partner with the continuous aim of furthering the cause with the end goal being fair legislation for people who don’t have the ability or strength to peacefully end their own life.