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Charges against assisted suicide in Canberra dropped because of ‘good intent and minimal acts’

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), prosecutors decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute a Canberra man who helped his wife ending her life, because it was an act of “love and compassion”. 


A woman of 35 years, Penelope Blume, was suffering from the advanced stages of motor neurone disease. She and her husband, Neil O’Riordan’s, considered going to Switzerland or interstate to Victoria, where laws around assisted dying differed. “But my wife wanted to die at home and at a time of her choosing,” O’Riordan said. So she died in the arms of her man at their home on March 15 this year. In the process of taking her own life, Ms Blume used an item modified by O’Riordan, that ensured she was unconscious before she died. O’Riordan was subsequently charged with one count of aiding suicide. He said assisted dying laws were “inevitable” and “strongly” urged legislators to listen to the community.


In giving his reasons for the decision, ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said he did not intend the move to be a green light for assisted suicide in Canberra. He said it was not his intention to set a precedent for how assisted suicides were dealt with in the ACT, noting it was not a government policy position. “It must be made clear that the exercise of my discretion in this matter is in no way intended to provide guidance on how to aid a suicide and avoid prosecution,” he said. 

Mr Drumgold said, if not for Mr O’Riordan’s help, Ms Blume may have suffered a prolonged and distressing death. “Although the evidence establishes that the defendant rendered aid to the deceased, the assistance offered was minimal, motivated wholly by love and compassion, and designed to ensure that the deceased’s death was quick and painless,” he said. Mr Drumgold found it would not be in the public interest to prosecute Mr O’Riordan as the consequences would be “unduly harsh and oppressive in the circumstances”.


The 63 years old O’Riordan says he is “relieved” and “grateful” that assisted suicide charges against him were dropped. 


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