As the controversial court case of Tony Nicklinson in Britain continues the Irish father of Catherine O’Leary has spoken out their own difficulties dealing with with the condition, 'locked-in syndrome', and Tony's decision to fight for assisted suicide.
Currently British and Irish media is swamped with coverage of Tony Nicklinson’s case which is being heard in court. In June 2005 Tony suffered a massive stroke while on a trip to Greece. He is now paralyzed and incapable of caring for himself.
He has taken a case with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Britain in the hope that his wife or daughters would not face prosecution if they were to assist his suicide. As the law stands in UK and Ireland an assisted suicide is impossible without criminal charges.
In Carrigaline, Cork, Mother-of-one Catherine O’Leary is suffering the same fate. In 2008 Catherine underwent surgery to remove a massive brain tumor. She suffered a series of strokes after the operation which led to a condition called hypoxia, commonly known as ‘locked in syndrome’. She is paralyzed from the neck down.
Catherine’s father, Patrick, spoke to the Evening Herald about Tony’s case. “
I definitely agree with him -- it is his choice,” said Patrick.
“If he had good communication skills it would be different. But it's just terrible. If you don't have communication and you can't look after yourself, I suppose it is the worst.”
Under current law anyone who has decided to end their own life due to illness and has made their wishes clear to the authorities can be assured that their spouse, family or friends will not face charges.
For people who are suffering from ‘locked in syndrome’ however it’s a different scenario. Because these people can not physically end their own lives their loved ones will have to essentially kill them.
Over the past two years Catherine has been battling with her condition at Cork University Hospital. She is now learning the skill of communicating with her family through blinking.
The past two years have been very difficult for everyone involved. Patrick understands now why Tony has made this decision.
“It's hard for everyone. It's hard for him, the patient, and the family…My God, my heart goes out to his family,” said Patrick.
Initially Catherine was treated in London. Her family fought a long campaign to get her back to Cork and secure a private bedroom for her. Now surrounded by her family and her ten-year-old son Brendan she is showing signs of improvement.
“She is a great inspiration to everyone,” said Patrick. “Catherine is now beginning to blink once for yes and twice for no again, which is great for communicating with her, as we now know when she is in pain.”
Catherine was sent to London for treatment when it came apparently that Irish hospitals did not have to facilities to deal with her rehab. Her father quit his job and now helps to care for her fulltime.
Though their situation continues to be very difficult they has also been shown a great deal of support by the public and the media who have helped and given donations to her care. One anonymous benefactor donated €50,000.