Irish women are now incubators. Even in death.

Consent is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, their right to refuse or to choose medical treatment is null and void. Self-determination is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, they may no longer choose the direction of their lives within our borders, and if they do not have the right to leave their borders their lives become the property of our state. And as of today, even the right to be laid to rest after our deaths is not for any pregnant person in this country.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that way. December 26th marked a High Court ruling on the case of a brain-dead woman who has been kept on life somatic support since her death on December 3rd. She has been kept breathing, despite the unanimous wishes of her partner and family, because at the time of her death she was ~14 weeks pregnant, and Ireland’s constitution demands that the right to life of a foetus must be protected. Because of this constitutional provision- which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment, don’t you worry- none of her doctors would allow her life support to be turned off. Her family- including her two young children- have been forced to watch as the condition of her still-breathing corpse deteriorated grotesquely, waiting for the High Court to deliberate and make its decision.

It’s a hell of a way to spend Christmas. Continue reading “Irish women are now incubators. Even in death.”

Irish women are now incubators. Even in death.

Empowering Women Through Secularism Conference: Help me get to it!

Hey, Readers!

You know I love yas, right? And you know how I do my absolute best to come up with interesting things for you to read? And you know all the conversations we have here about feminism and social justice and secularism and all of that  really juicy, interesting stuff? I’ve got something you’ll be interested in. And I’ve got a favour to ask.

Empowering Women Through Secularism


This June, Atheist Ireland will be hosting the country’s first ever Empowering Women Through Secularism conference. They’ve got a fascinating lineup of speakers both from ’round these parts and internationally. From Ireland, we’re talking people like:

And they’ll be bringing in the likes of this lot from overseas:

From the conference page, here’s the kind of topics that’ll be discussed:

Topics will include

  • How religions discriminate against women
  • How religiously-influenced laws discriminate against women
  • The history of women in atheist and secular activism
  • Healthcare, sexuality and reproductive rights
  • Education, careers, and social policy
  • Combatting violence against women
  • Political strategies, media and building coalitions
  • The future of women in atheist and secular activism
  • Declaration on Empowering Women Through Secularism

If you’re in Dublin and have any interest in feminism and secularism from a gloriously international perspective? You gotta sign up for this.

Help me get there!

Here’s the bit where I ask you a favour. As some of you know, I’m not exactly Scrooge McDucking my way through my vault of eurodollarpounds. I am, in fact, a broke-ass intern. Registration for the conference is still going at an early bird price of just €100 for the weekend, but even that is beyond my means right now. I would really, really love to get to this conference, but I can’t do it on my own.

This is where my readers come in. Help me raise the €£$ to get to the conference, and I’ll blog my little heart out at it. Have a speaker you’ve always wanted to ask a burning question to? I’ll ask them! I’ll livetweet sessions. I’ll barely sleep for the weekend and actually make it to the early morning talks and panels and I’ll recap every damn thing I go to. If you won’t be able to make it to Dublin that weekend, this is your chance to get real-time info ‘n’ updates on what promises to be one hell of a fascinating conference.

I would really love to get to this. I can’t make it on my own. Give a brokeass blogger a hand?

Empowering Women Through Secularism Conference: Help me get to it!

Whose are you? Marie Fleming, assisted dying and the right to one’s self.

Whose are you? Who does your life belong to? Are you yours?

Are you?

Whose are you?

Isn’t that always the question? This past month I’ve been talking about gender recognition, abortion, ableism, body policing, sex work, and the one question that always comes up is this. Whose are you?

Today Marie Fleming, a terminally ill woman, is in the High Court seeking the right to assisted suicide. She is suffering with end-stage multiple sclerosis. She is on constant pain, almost entirely paralysed, and has no hope of survival past the next year or two. According to the Irish Times, Marie

had said she lives “with little or no dignity and feared”, with the inevitable deterioration of her condition, she was facing unbearable pain and a situation where she be heavily sedated and/or could end up starving to death as she would not wish to be intravenously fed.

In a statement, Ms Fleming said she was not afraid to die and did not want to live much longer in a situation where he[r] condition is incurable and worsening. She was sorry she had not taken her own life five years ago when she had the use of her limbs, she added.

She wanted to be able to die at a time of her own choosing in the arms of her partner.

I’ll never say that assisted suicide is not a complex issue. It is. In creating guidelines and legislation around assisted suicide, we have to balance compassion for the person who needs assistance to end their life with our very real concern with preventing abuse.

Everybody’s life is priceless and unique. Nobody’s life is nothing more than a burden. Nobody should be forced to continue an existence which has become unbearable with no hope of improvement.

But in all of these complexities, there are two questions which must be the basis for all of our discussions. What is the compassionate act in this situation? And whose are we?

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of combining honesty and compassion. When it comes to assisted dying, we need both.

Thinking about death

Few of us like to contemplate death. It’s uncomfortable. Most of us avoid thinking of terminal illnesses as much as we can. It’s understandable. We have one chance to live our lives. Who wants to spend what little years we have on our end? If we’ve lost people we love- which most of us have- it gets even harder. Thinking about death reminds us of those godawful weeks or months or years when we sat by our loved ones as they slipped away from us and there wasn’t a damn thing that we could do about it. It hurts.

You know what else hurts? A woman who says that her pain is unbearable. Who is terrified of being denied the right to die without pain in her partner’s arms, and of the prospect of a drawn-out sedated death by starvation. Those of us who are not- yet– in her position have a responsibility to prioritise compassion over our own discomfort.

We’ve got to be honest.

None of us will live forever. Medicine allows us to live decades longer than we otherwise would have, but there will inevitably come a point for each of us when it can no longer save us. For a long time, this has been the primary goal of medical science- to cure, treat and prevent disease and by doing so to give us all longer and healthier lives. It’s been a stunning success. My immune system is swimming with antibodies from vaccines to diseases that killed in my grandparents’ generation. Several members of my family can look forward to long, healthy lives after spotting a genetic condition that would have eventually killed them untreated. Because of medical science, I hope that we can all enjoy a long old age together.

But it doesn’t last forever. And it doesn’t always work. For every polio and haemochromatosis there’s an MS, ALS or an untreatable tumour. We can’t fix everything. Eventually every one of us will come down with something that we just can’t fix. If we’re lucky it’ll be relatively short and painless. Sometimes it won’t be. For Marie Fleming, it is neither. Sometimes we come to a point where we cannot cure, we can no longer treat, and we cannot ease pain. When we can’t do those things, what can we do? What do we do?

When allowing assisted suicide prolongs life

Suicide is not illegal in Ireland. We each have the right to die by our own hand. What is illegal is assisting someone else in ending their life. In most circumstances, that makes sense. The idea of a grey area where taking someone else’s life is legal seems like it would introduce the kind of legal ambiguities that could be used to let people quite literally get away with murder. But look at this:

[Marie Fleming] was sorry she had not taken her own life five years ago when she had the use of her limbs.

I think that we all can agree that euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be taken lightly. They should be a matter of last resort when everything else has failed and when there is no hope for happiness and a decent quality of life. But because assisted suicide is illegal in Ireland, Marie Fleming wishes she had taken her own life while she still could. Our banning of assisted suicide led directly to a woman wishing she had taken her own life before it became unbearable. Because she knew that there was no other way. And the reason that she did not?

Mr Curran had dissuaded her from taking her own life five years ago but had assured her, if or when she came to the point where she wanted to die that he, “notwithtanding his own fears and sadness, will do all he can to help me”.

Marie Fleming is alive today because she was promised a way out when she needed it. Our state will prosecute him for this. We’ll tell him that he is a murderer because he gave his partner half a decade of life. Do you think that is reasonable or ethical? I don’t.

Whose are we?

And here we come back to that interminable question. Whose are we? Do we belong to our families? To the state? To (FSM forbid) the church? Are we ours?

If Marie Fleming belongs to the state, then the state can intervene to prevent her from getting the assistance she needs to take her own life. If she belongs to Marie Fleming, then there is only one person who can decide when her life should no longer continue.

We need to allow dying people the same dignity and bodily autonomy as the rest of us enjoy. We have a two-tier system in this country right now- one law for those of us with full use of our limbs and another for those without. None of us want tragedies like Marie Fleming’s illness to happen. But when they do, we have the responsibility to act with humanity and compassion and the understanding that each of us, at the end of the day, belong to ourselves.


Whose are you? Marie Fleming, assisted dying and the right to one’s self.