Assisted suicide charges dropped against Canberra man who helped terminally ill wife end her own life

He reluctantly agreed to help his terminally ill wife end her life.
He reluctantly agreed to help his terminally ill wife end her life. Photo credit: Left: The Project Australia/Screenshot; Right: Facebook/Penelope Blume

WARNING: This article talks about suicide.

An Australian man, who faced charges of assisted suicide for helping his terminally ill partner end her own life, has spoken out about the heartbreaking decision.

Neil O'Riordan's partner of 25 years, Penelope Blume, had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2016. 

Blume decided she wanted to end her own life after her health severely deteriorated last year, The Project Australia reports. 

The "crippling trajectory" of the neurological disease meant that Blume, who became fully dependant on her husband to get through day-to-day life, would inevitably face a distressing and highly uncomfortable death.

O'Riordan, 63, reportedly discouraged her initially - but reluctantly decided to help fulfill her wish after several postponements.

She died in O'Riordan's arms at their home on March 15. Beforehand, the couple shared a last meal together and spent hours in each other's company, talking and hugging.

"Theoretically, I was perfectly fine with it... until it happened," O'Riordan said in an interview with The Project Australia.

"And I was devastated. I wailed. I think about the unfairness."

O'Riordan was charged with one count of assisting suicide for his role in Blume's death. He said he was fully aware that his decision carried a risk, and he was not surprised by the charges. If convicted, O'Riordan could have spent 10 years in prison.

However, prosecutors decided his act was one of "love and compassion" and dropped the charge earlier this week, The Project reports.

ACT Magistrates Court did not proceed with the case as the possible consequences for O'Riordan were considered "unduly harsh and oppressive" given the circumstances of the assisted suicide.

The couple bonded over a shared love of food, travel and profession, both nurses by trade.

He said that Blume, a Buddhist, had always been open throughout their relationship about having the right to choose the end of life.

The couple agreed they didn't want to live in nursing homes or be dependent on others in their old age. O'Riordan told The Project that Blume, who had always been in "pretty good health", was severely affected by "having a body that didn't work anymore".

O'Riordan called Blume's act the "bravest thing [he'd] ever seen". He says he will live with his decision, knowing that Blume died at a time of her choosing and in the comfort of her home.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, told ABC that "the assistance offered was only minimal, motivated wholly by love and compassion, designed to ensure that the deceased's death was quick and painless."

Drumgold has made it apparent that the outcome of Blume's death does not indicate the legalisation of assisted suicide, nor is it intended to provide guidance on how to assist a suicide and avoid prosecution.

"The decision is based on the very unique facts of this case."

Where to find help and support: 

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

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