The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions dropped charges on Tuesday against a man who assisted his terminally ill wife to die, but warned this was not a green light for mercy killings in the ACT.
Neil O'Riordan, 63, had been facing one count of aiding and abetting a suicide after his wife Penelope Blume, 68, passed away on March 15.
However, ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold decided to abandon the case as he believed it was not in the public interest to prosecute Mr O'Riordan.
Speaking after the charges were dropped in court, Mr O'Riordan said he was grateful and relieved by the outcome.
"I was aware the actions Penelope and I were engaged in might have given people not many options," Mr O'Riordan said of the original decision to charge him.
Nonetheless, he said, it was a risk he remained willing to take.
"The subject of having the right to choose the end of your life is something that Penny and I had discussed throughout our relationship," he said.
"Penny had a rule that when she couldn't feed herself anymore and she couldn't wipe her own bottom she didn't want to be here anymore."
Mr O'Riordan said his beloved wife Penelope, who was a Buddhist, was a "calming influence" in his life and he was a better person for having known her.
He said they had spent much of their time together living in south-east Asia and travelling the world.
He said he and Ms Blume had explored multiple options, including travelling to Switzerland and even Victoria which recently introduced euthanasia laws, but ultimately Ms Blume decided she wanted to be at home.
"The only decision for me to make was to support her," Mr O'Riordan said.
He said governments at both federal and state level needed to address the issue of voluntary assisted dying with new laws.
"I think [it] is a topic that is here to stay and it's not something that is going to go away. I think it's inevitable," he said.
Mr Drumgold was adamant this would not set a precedent to abandon similar cases in future, stating the decision was based purely on the specific nature of the facts in Ms Blume's death.
Mr Drumgold said Mr O'Riordan and Ms Blume had been in a loving, supportive relationship for more than 25 years. Ms Blume was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease in 2016 and had steadily suffered mobility loss and reduced respiratory function.
Mr Drumgold said both Mr O'Riordan and Ms Blume were medically trained and aware of the disease's trajectory. He said Ms Blume's death was imminent within a matter of months and she was of sound mind at the time of her death.
Ms Blume had researched how to end her life and had even attended a session run by an organisation that taught terminally ill people how to painlessly end their lives.
Mr Drumgold did not go into detail about how Ms Blume took her own life other than to say she prepared two objects jointly with Mr O'Riordan. One was used to ensure Ms Blume was unconscious when she died and the other was deployed by Mr O'Riordan to cause her death.
Mr Drumgold said Mr O'Riordan had actively persuaded his wife to prolong her life, but on her final day she was adamant she wanted to die before she completely lost mobility and respiratory functions.
On the night of Ms Blume's death, Mr Drumgold said Mr O'Riordan purchased a meal and sat with his wife hugging her and talking to the early hours of the morning.
After her death, he continued holding her before calling police and being fully cooperative during a three-hour interview where he gave a complete history of the events leading to his wife's death.
Mr Drumgold said the decision to prosecute was a "two-stage process" to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to secure a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to pursue the prosecution.
He said, in this case, there were reasonable prospects for conviction based on the evidence but he determined it was not in the public interest.
He said Ms Blume had lost all independent functioning, including walking, self-care and toileting and wanted to die prior to suffering an unnecessarily distressing death.
Mr O'Riordan had secured no financial gain from his wife's death and he had no criminal history, Mr Drumgold said.
He determined Mr O'Riordan's assistance was minimal and was "motivated wholly by love and compassion".
"I consider the consequences of any resulting conviction for the offence would be unduly harsh and oppressive in the circumstances," Mr Drumgold said.
He said it was clear Mr O'Riordan had already suffered significant trauma from his wife's death.
Mr Drumgold said his decision would not affect how similar cases would be handled in future.
"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," Mr Drumgold said.
He added it was not his role to provide any guidance to government on the policies and legislation surrounding assisted suicide.
Mr O'Riordan said he could not offer advice to anyone in a similar situation to what he and Ms Blume faced as everyone's circumstances were different. But his message was, "you have my compassion and love."
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