RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of
Diana Muriel SHOOBRIDGE
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
FIND THAT :
a) The identity of the deceased is Diana Muriel Shoobridge (“Ms Shoobridge”) who died at a date unable to be determined but estimated between 14 July 2011 and approximately 8.30am on 15 July 2011.
b) Ms Shoobridge died at 65 Kellatie Road, Rosny.
c) Ms Shoobridge was aged 70 years at the date of her death having been born on 30 August 1940.
d) Ms Shoobridge was a single person, was a stenographer but a retired person at the time of her death.
e) Ms Shoobridge died of a combined drug (propoxyphene, metoclopramide and duloxetine) intoxication.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
Ms Shoobridge resided overseas in Canada for most of her working life and returned to Tasmania approximately 20 years ago. Upon her return to Tasmania she purchased the property at 65 Kellatie Road, Rosny where she resided for a period of time. She then purchased and moved to a 5 acre property at 76 Prospect Road, Sandford but maintained 65 Kellatie Road, Rosny as an investment property. Ms Shoobridge never married, did not have children and lived independently throughout her life. Ms Shoobridge resided in Sandford for approximately 15 years until the stage where due to her health and frailty she could no longer maintain this property. She then moved to 65 Kellatie Road, Rosny in or about August 2010 after that house was renovated to enable access for her wheelie walker and mobility scooter.
Ms Shoobridge had in recent years a history of depression. She was first admitted to the Hobart Clinic during the period 26 September 2008 until 12 October 2008. Problems during that admission included a diagnosis of major depressive illness, unresolved grief and fixation on bowel problems (somatisation). The latter complaint resulted in much gastrointestinal investigation and problems with nutrition and loss of weight. She was treated with the antidepressant duloxetine at a dose of 60mg a day during that admission which was continued on discharge. During this admission she expressed no suicidal thoughts, intent or plan and did not describe feelings of worthlessness or overwhelming hopelessness.
Her second admission to the Hobart Clinic was from 2 February 2010 until 9 March 2010. Again the diagnosis was of major depression and, as before, gastrointestinal problems thought to be of functional (psychological) origin were still present. Her clinical picture at the time was compounded by a recent diagnosis from the Department of Neurology of the Royal Hobart Hospital of progressive peripheral neuropathy which was causing gait problems and with the ultimate prospect of marked physical incapacity and immobilisation in the future. This illness had resulted in her having to retire from her employment. Her depression and appetite were noted to have improved during this admission as a result of an increase in her antidepressant dose and the addition of olanzapine to deal with her bowel fixation. During this admission there were no suicide ideas expressed. After discharge and during her time in a day program with the Clinic, Ms Shoobridge is reported to have indicated to one of the employees that if she became permanently incapacitated she had a plan to end her suffering. She would refuse to divulge such thoughts to those treating her. Apparently Ms Shoobridge had undergone intensive gastroenterological investigations concerning her ongoing nausea and vomiting referred to in relation to her admission to Hobart Clinic. All of those investigations were negative.
Ms Shoobridge first consulted Dr Michael Dreyer, Neurologist, on 15 November 2010 for a second opinion regarding a diagnosis that had been made of peripheral neuropathy and investigation as to whether she may be suffering motor neurone disease. Nerve conduction studies which had been performed prior to this consultation demonstrated features indicative of sensory motor polyneuropathy. Laboratory studies had failed to detect a cause for that neuropathy and Dr Dreyer considered that it was idiopathic. He also excluded a diagnosis of motor neurone disease. When reviewed on 24 March 2011 Dr Dreyer noted that Ms Shoobridge’s gait had deteriorated significantly with frequent falling and she had become wheelchair bound. He concluded that she had an intractable and severe idiopathic sensory motor polyneuropathy for which there was no cure. He noted at the time that she had an elevated Vitamin B6 level which was associated with a food supplement that she had been taking. He advised her to seek an alternate supplement as he believed the elevated Vitamin B levels in her serum may have contributed to some of her neuropathic symptoms.
The sister of Ms Shoobridge, Mrs Carol Oakley, reports that over the six month period following her discharge after the second admission to the Hobart Clinic her sister’s health deteriorated to the extent that she required assistance to walk. It was as a result of her deterioration that it was decided that she needed to move closer to town from her property at Sandford. The property at 65 Kellatie Road, Rosny was renovated in order to assist her sister’s mobility around the house as she had become frail. At or about Christmas 2010, Mrs Oakley reports that her sister asked her to attend an euthanasia meeting held at Glenorchy. Mrs Oakley did not attend, however she later was informed by her sister that during that meeting she had been told how to go about committing suicide. This euthanasia organisation was identified as “Exit International” which supports the legalisation of euthanasia. Ms Shoobridge joined that organisation on 23 December 2010 during a meeting in Hobart. Analysis of Ms Shoobridge’s telephone records identified that she had had contact with Ms K Scurr who was at the time the Hobart Co-ordinator of Exit International. Ms Scurr has been spoken to by police in relation to her contact with Ms Shoobridge and it has been determined that her only contact was at Exit International meetings and by telephone. It is apparent that Ms Shoobridge obtained a copy of a chapter from a book titled “A Peaceful Pill Handbook” which was located in her residence on the day of her death. The book contained instructions relating to consuming prescription drugs including propoxyphene to create a “reliable, peaceful and dignified death”.
At approximately 8.30am on Friday 15 July 2011 Mrs Oakley attended her sister’s residence. Upon entering the house she located her sister lying on her back on the floor of her bedroom adjacent to the bed. Mrs Oakley felt for a pulse but immediately determined that her sister was cold to touch. She exited the bedroom and contacted the authorities with police and ambulance arriving shortly thereafter. Tasmanian Ambulance Service logged a call received at 8.34am and their arrival at the scene at 8.45am. They then observed that Ms Shoobridge was cyanosed, there was nil response, lividity, rigormortis and she recorded asystole on ECG. No treatment was initiated as it was established that Ms Shoobridge was deceased.
The attending police then commenced an investigation and initial advice from Mrs Oakley was her belief that her sister had committed suicide. She disclosed to police that she observed the day before empty medication packages and capsules in the rubbish bin, however she was concerned that others may have been present when her sister died or may have assisted her in her suicide. In support of this belief Mrs Oakley identified physical characteristics at the scene which made her believe others may have been inside the residence recently. In particular she identified two chairs which had been pulled out from the dining table and a bottle of whiskey on the kitchen bench. She also disclosed to police that her sister had been involved in the suicide support organisation called Exit International. A number of items were seized by police at the scene including three pairs of scissors on the dining table which had a white powder on them, and drinking glasses in the kitchen sink which contained a yellowish paste. A search of wheelie bins in the garage of the residence located a number of items including an empty box of Maxolon (metoclopramide), ten empty Voloxene (propoxyphene) blister packs, a large quantity of empty pink capsules and an empty blister pack of Cymbalta (duloxetine). A doorknock with neighbours was conducted, two of whom advised that they had seen Ms Shoobridge the day before her death however none of the neighbours interviewed had noticed any visitors attend Ms Shoobridge’s house immediately prior to her death or noticed anything suspicious at her address.
Forensic examinations were conducted on the exhibits seized at the scene. The white powder on the three pairs of scissors collected from the kitchen table was identified as being Ms Shoobridge’s prescription medication, propoxyphene. The scissors were also examined for DNA and all were found to have Ms Shoobridge’s DNA on them with no DNA from a second contributor being detected. The white paste in the drinking glass in the kitchen sink was found to contain propoxyphene. These findings suggest that Ms Shoobridge mixed propoxyphene in the glass with a liquid and then consumed it. The pink empty capsules retrieved from the rubbish bin in the garage were found to contain propoxyphene and based on the observations made by Mrs Oakley of having seen the capsules the previous day it is evident that Ms Shoobridge had already removed propoxyphene from the capsules the day before her death. At the scene a note dated 14 July 2011 was found which was addressed to Ms Shoobridge’s sister and brother. It is signed by Ms Shoobridge and the writing was identified as hers by her sister Mrs Oakley. This is clearly a suicide note containing the opening sentences:
“I have always intended to end my life if my health failed to a point where quality of life was no longer possible, and that is the stage I am now at. I can no longer walk unaided and am losing my arm strength rapidly as you can tell from my writing.”
I am satisfied that a full and detailed investigation has been undertaken in relation to the death of Ms Shoobridge and that it is clear that she took her own life by an overdose of her prescription medication. Although I am satisfied that no other persons were present at the time nor took any direct action to assist her at the relevant time, it is apparent that she received over time general information from proponents of euthanasia, in particular those associated with the organisation Exit International. Indications are that Ms Shoobridge was a proud and independent person who not unexpectedly was well organised and researched on the topic of suicide. Ms Shoobridge had obviously reached this decision due to her failing health caused by the incurable condition of sensory motor polyneuropathy which would cause continuing neuropathic pain and gradual loss of mobility and function. Ms Shoobridge sadly felt there was no option in light of her developing condition other than to take this action before she reached the stage of being unable to do so.
Before concluding I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Ms Shoobridge.
DATED: 27th day of April 2012 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania