Refusal to prosecute shows law is meaningless, say advocates

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nurse adjust patient's IV needle.
An ACT magistrate has decided not to prosecute a man who aided his wife to die.

Anti-euthanasia advocates say that an ACT magistrate’s decision not to prosecute a man who helped his wife to die makes anti-suicide laws toothless.

Neil O’Riordan’s partner of 35 years Penelope Blume suffered from motor neurone disease and took her life with his help on 15 March.

Mr O’Riordan admitted to modifying an item used by Ms Blume to ensure she was unconscious before she died, and to being present at her death.

He was charged with one count of aiding suicide which comes with a penalty of 10 years imprisonment under the ACT’s Crimes Act 1900.

The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, said that although there was enough evidence to convict Mr O’Riordan, “the assistance offered was minimal, motivated wholly by love and compassion, and designed to ensure that the deceased’s death was quick and painless”.

Mr Drumgold said the decision was “in no way intended to provide guidance on how to aid a suicide and avoid prosecution”.

But Branka van der Linden director of HOPE, an anti-euthanasia and assisted suicide organisation, disagrees.

A scale of justice
Branka van der Linden, director of HOPE, says that safeguards in our laws are only effective if they are enforced.

“Safeguards in our laws are only effective if they are enforced,” said Ms van der Linden.

“Unfortunately in Australia, we have seen too many examples of police and prosecutors decline to pursue cases against people who brazenly break laws prohibiting assisted suicide; this case is just another one.”

In countries where euthanasia has been legalised, a similar reluctance has been evident on the part of law enforcement authorities to prosecute breaches of safeguards, she said.

“If current laws designed to protect the vulnerable aren’t upheld by those with the ability and responsibility to do so, we cannot expect that new laws will either.

“This case confirms what we know to be true, that there is no way that state-sanctioned killing can be safe.”

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