Caring

Basmah Qazi

Magda Szubanski's question brings man to tears: “I’ll live with the decision I made”

Magda Szubanski's question brings man to tears: “I’ll live with the decision I made”

A Canberra man who was close to facing jail time for helping his terminally ill wife take her own life has broken down on TV after he was asked a heartbreaking question from Magda Szubanski.

Neil O’Riordan appeared on The Project last night, only a few short hours after the charges made against him were dropped.

The 63-year-old was arrested earlier in the year and was charged with assisted suicide after he helped his wife of 25 years end her life.

Shane Drumgold, the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, said forcing Neil to face court would be “unduly harsh and oppressive”, saying he was “motivated wholly by love and compassion”.

His wife Penelope Blume made the tough decision after she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2016 and saw her health getting progressively worse.

She then turned to her husband about ending her life.

“For Penelope, who’d always enjoyed good health, having a body that didn’t work anymore was catastrophic,” Neil told The Project.

By March, Penelope was completely dependant on Neil for everything. It was soon after she made the painstaking decision to say goodbye.

“It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll live with the decision that I made,” he said.

Neil said he was relieved to not be facing jail time of potentially 10 years but also wishes the ACT accepted euthanasia in the same way as Victoria.

The state legalised voluntary euthanasia two weeks ago.

“I grew up in what used to be a compassionate and caring country, and I guess I’ve become concerned that we display less and less of those characteristics,” said Neil.

“I would hope when it comes to the issue of voluntary assisted dying that we go back to the compassion and caring country that we used to be.”

Neil kept his emotions in check throughout the interview but broke down after Magda Szubanski asked him a sensitive question.

“It must have been an incredibly hard thing to do,” Szubanski said.

“When the final moment came, were you at peace with the decision because you knew that it was what Penelope wanted?”

He laughed slightly before responding: “OK. Theoretically, yes, I was perfectly fine with it,” he said, as his voice began breaking.

“Until it happened. And I was devastated. I wailed. I thought about the unfairness about why couldn’t I be doing this with my family? Why did we have to be covert?”

The couple spent their final night together by going on a date but spoke openly about what was to come.

“We weren’t secretive about it. I’m surrounded by people who love and care about me. People were aware of what was going to happen,” he said.

“I guess the covertness comes from the fact that the way that it had to happen. I would hope there are opportunities in the future for people to perhaps do that with their family more involved for the processes to be less covert.”

Neil then revealed that their final hours spent together was exactly what Penelope wanted.

“She wanted to see the beach again, eat seafood again, difficult to acquire in Canberra, and mostly, I guess, we wanted to spend some time alone together,” he said.

“I was prepared to and fully expected to be charged, and I guess at some level I expected to be convicted, and I’m very grateful that the court made a different decision.”