A devoted husband who faced criminal charges after helping his wife end her life has been cleared after prosectors claimed he acted out of “love and compassion” for his partner who had suffered from debilitating motor neurone disease.
Neil O’Riordan assisted in the death of his wife Penelope Blume who had been struggling with advanced stages of the disease, which affects the nerves that control the movement of muscles, the ABC reports.
She died peacefully in his arms on March 15 at their home in Canberra, with the couple sharing one last meal together before she took her final breath. According to the ABC, O’Riordan helped with the process by modifying an item used by his wife to ensure she was unconscious before she died.
The doting husband was initially charged with one count of aiding suicide however this was dropped on Tuesday when prosecutors claimed O’Riordan was acting out of love for Blume who was able to have a “quick and painless” death.
According to the ABC, the court also heard that Blume had previously wanted to end her life, however O’Riordan had managed to talk her out of it.
Speaking before the court Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said the assistance O’Riordan offered was minimal and Blume still would have died without his assistance.
“Had the defendant not made minor modifications to an item used in the suicide, death would have still resulted, however, it may have been prolonged, resulting in a highly distressing process for the deceased,” he said according to the ABC.
“Although the defendant was present for the deceased’s death, he states that this was because he loved the deceased and did not want her to endure the trauma of death alone.
“This in turn caused the defendant significant trauma that he displayed during a subsequent lengthy police interview and beyond.”
Despite the decision not to charge O’Riordan in relation to his wife’s death, Drumgold said it was a unique case and in no way should be seen as a “guidance on how to aid a suicide and avoid prosecution”.
The decision comes after Victoria became the first state or territory in Australia to implement voluntary assisted dying legislation, which gives anyone suffering from a terminal illness, who has less than six months to live, the right to end their life legally.
The controversial law, which was passed in November 2017, came into effect in June with State Premier Daniel Andrews estimating that around one dozen people will access voluntary assisted dying within the first year, which will see patients being prescribed medication which they then self-administer at a time and place of their own choosing.
There are strict stipulations though and anyone who wishes to apply must be a Victorian resident, be aged 18 and over and have been assessed by two doctors to have a terminal illness with intolerable pain that will likely cause death within six months . However, in the case of neurodegenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease, the timeframe is extended to 12 months.
Applications must also be signed by two witnesses and, in a bid to avoid elderly patients being pressured, anyone named as a beneficiary of the person is not permitted to act as a witness.