Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called on the Federal Parliament to tackle the thorny issue of voluntary assisted dying after the dropping of an aiding suicide charge against a Canberra man.
Prosecutors decided it was not in the public interest to pursue the charge against nurse Neil O’Riordan who helped his partner of 35 years, motor neurone disease sufferer Penelope Blume to die, saying the consequences would be ‘unduly harsh’.
Ms Blume, also a nurse, died in Mr O’Riordan’s arms at their home on 15 March after he used a modified item that ensured she was unconscious before she died.
ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold said in his reasons for the decision that he did not intend it be a green light for assisted suicide in Canberra.
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Mr Barr said the issue would not go away and that it was unfair and undemocratic that the ACT and Northern Territory were not able to consider it within their parliaments.
“I said at the time Victoria passed its legislation that it was absurd that you had a scheme in place in Australia but the Territories couldn’t consider the matter,” he said.
“It’s only going to become increasingly absurd as more Australian states move on this question of voluntary assisted dying and end of life issues.”
Mr Barr said that if the ACT and NT could not deal with the issue then the Federal Parliament should.
“That blanket ban is undemocratic,” he said. “In the short term it might mean that it’s the Commonwealth that might have to legislate in this area for the Territories. If they’re not going to allow Territory parliaments to undertake this work, the alternative approach is for our Commonwealth parliamentarians to introduce legislation that would apply in both Territories. That could be another way forward.”
He said the ACT Government had advocated very strongly for Territory parliaments to have the same right as states and he had taken the matter up with Federal colleagues.
“That would at least see some progress on an issue that’s important to Canberrans and Australians,” he said.
Prompted by the recent legislative change in Victoria, Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh told Region Media that he too was actively pursuing legislative change in the ACT, particularly with regard to restoring territory lawmaking rights.
“This isn’t just about euthanasia – it’s about territory rights,” he said at the time.
Mr Barr said research showed more than 80 per cent of Canberrans wanted movement on this issue.
“Of course there would necessarily be a quite detailed examination of whatever legal structure was put in place and that would necessarily take time and require a lot of community engagement,” he said.
“But I think the threshold issue of whether it should be considered in the Territory is very clear.”
Otherwise there was potential for the issue to play out in the courts, he said.
A relieved Mr O’Riodan told the ABC that his action was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life but he believed assisted dying laws were “inevitable” and “strongly” urged legislators to listen to the community.