Tom Curran spends a lot of time thinking about death: ways to die, places to die and people who want to die. While his partner was fighting to "avoid a bad death," the Irish right-to-death advocate found his appeal, which brought him closer to Swiss aid organizations for suicide.
The former information technology professional drew public attention to Ireland several years ago when his partner, Marie Fleming, filed a landmark case with the Supreme Court challenging the ban on assisted suicide.
She argued that as a disabled patient with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), she had a constitutional right to help in dying.
"I was educated with Mary. But it was not so much that Marie wanted to plan her death, she wanted to plan to avoid a serious death. And that's what almost everyone we meet does. They want to know they have control, "said Tom.
The couple imported a lethal dose of pentobarbital barbiturate from Mexico. It is the drug used legally in assisted suicides in Switzerland. "As soon as that happened, she relaxed because she knew she could make that decision at any time. And it was more than five years before his death.
Marie was too ill to attend the final decision of the judges dismissing her appeal in April 2013. Eight months later, she died at home, having never obtained legal insurance that she wanted Tom not to be prosecuted. he helped him to die.
To make a campaign
Tom is now active on a larger stage of the right to die movement. He is one of the three directors of Exit Internationalexternal link, a registered Australian right-to-die organization, formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Research Foundation. Its founder, Philip Nitschke, nicknamed Dr Death, is now based in the Netherlands.
Before our meeting in Ireland, I first met with Tom in Berne, where he had to accompany an English woman traveling to the Swiss capital. She wanted to end her life with the help of one of the less well-known death assistance organizations in Switzerland, Ex International.external link However, the woman postponed her plans and the trip was canceled.
Tom was present during the most widely publicized assisted suicide in recent years. Australian scientist David Goodall, 104, came to Basel to die in May 2018, with help from Exit International and a local organization called Life Circle in operation.
"We firmly believe that people should be able to control their own death. They should not depend on the medical profession and get permission to die, "said Tom.
Drugs and death capsules
One of the main activities of Exit International is to inform the public about reliable and peaceful methods of suicide. This includes instructions on how to get drugs on the dark web. Unsurprisingly, his activities have proved controversial.
More recently, Exit International announced an invention sponsored by Sarco, a 3D-printed euthanasia machine.external link which is currently exhibited in Italy at the Venice Design 2019 art exhibition.
Activated from the inside by the person who intends to die, the capsule is flooded with nitrogen, creating an oxygen-free environment that quickly causes a peaceful death.
Exit International has links with Pegasos, the latest organization in the field of assisted suicideexternal link. Nitschke told swissinfo.ch that Exit International's long-term goal was to use Sarco in Switzerland, possibly in collaboration with Pegasos. "We get advice on all legal obstacles."
A spokesman for Pegasos confirmed that representatives of the two organizations had met in Basel in October, but it was highly likely that Sarco would be used with another Swiss organization.
"In six months we will all have a better idea of Sarco's place in the overall vision and any possible relationship with Pegasos."
Meanwhile, Nitschke will present the Sarco prototype on the Swiss route "to take pictures" at the end of the exhibition, in November.
Tom's passion for the right to die movement is based on decades of experience in caring for and meeting the needs of his partner. He and Marie met when they were thirty, divorced and well established in their careers. Tom worked as a computer systems designer and project manager, and Marie was a lecturer in business administration at University College Dublin.
"From the beginning, we both realized that the relationship could be serious. She was in remission at that time and she told me about her MS. And she said that the reason she had told me was that she wanted to give me the opportunity to leave. "
They spent the next 25 years together. When Mary's symptoms get worse, she has to stop working. Tom was often away several days at a time for his work. It came to the point that Marie could not spend the day alone at home in their little rural house, so Tom gave up her job to take care of her.
"The decision was made when I came home from work on a Friday and Mary had fallen. Fortunately, she had only fallen this afternoon. She was on the floor for a few hours.
"It was a difficult existence. Finally, we were simply living with a disability allowance and caregiver allowance, so we had to adapt our way of life completely. "
More challenges await us. As Mary's illness worsened, she became increasingly worried about the end of her life. Finally, she was assigned to a palliative care team.
"Over the years, there have been many milestones (related to the disease), as we called them, and we made fun of themselves. Earlier, she would have said: I never want that to happen, I never want that to happen, but the milestones have followed one another because she was receiving good care. "
Tom does not believe that medical assistance in dying and palliative care should be opposed. He is also involved in various organizations in the Irish palliative care sector.
"On a number of occasions, the palliative care team told me that Marie was going to die that night. I would say there have been at least half a dozen times. But we treated her every time she was asked if she wanted to go and each time she said no, so I made sure she would not do it. "
Despite the negative consequences of her illness for Marie, the couple took full advantage of their time together. "Every year, even the last year, has been a good year. Until the last day. Tom refused to discuss Marie's last moments in the field of private life.
"It is a right"
Today, Tom Curran's project management skills are fully exercised as he is currently planning a global conference on the right to die in Dublin next year.
In addition to the larger campaign, there are regular reminders of the individual struggles of people who desperately want something that is against the law, where they live.
Because of his profile in Ireland, he is often asked by people looking for help to go to Switzerland. "This week alone, I received three calls from people. I do not think they should travel, but I can only accompany people in rare exceptions. "
Tom's warm personality has a side of missionary zeal. He found his call.
"We encourage people to plan well in advance. Buy their medication, put their method in place, no matter the situation, and prepare it well in advance so that they do not have to involve people who risk being sued for their help.
Suicide assisted in Switzerland
Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and assistants have no direct interest in their death. Assisted suicide has been allowed in the country since the 1940s.
Death is usually caused by a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by a doctor. Ingesting the poison, either by drinking it or using intravenous infusions or stomach tubes, should be done by the person who wishes to die.
A 2006 decision of the Swiss Federal Court established that all people with good judgment, whether or not they have mental illness, have the right to decide how they will die.
In June 2011, the government considered various options for regulating assisted suicide practices and decided not to seek legal changes, but to strengthen suicide prevention and palliative care.
Switzerland has two main groups for people seeking assisted suicide, Exit and Dignitas, as well as other smaller groups.
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