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Assisted suicide trial hears MS patient's last words

By Ed Carty

Published 20/04/2015

A taxi driver is on trial in Dublin in connection with the assisted suicide of an MS patient
A taxi driver is on trial in Dublin in connection with the assisted suicide of an MS patient

An MS patient who died in an alleged assisted suicide left a recording of her nightmare life and frustration with not being able to travel to Switzerland to die, a court has heard.

Bernadette Forde was found dead in a wheelchair in the sitting room of her home in Donnybrook, south Dublin on June 6 2011 with a dictaphone containing her dying words.

In the first trial of its kind in Ireland, a friend and carer of the 51-year-old, who was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2001, has been charged with assisting the suicide.

Gail O'Rorke, 43, a taxi driver from Kilcare Gardens in Tallaght, Dublin who worked as a cleaner and then carer for Ms Forde, pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to three charges.

The recording left by Ms Forde was played to the jury and heard her say her plan to die was "me, totally me, and nobody else".

"I knew what I wanted to do. I just can't live with this anymore. It's just my life is shit," she said.

"I just can't keep going on with everything... everything is just a nightmare."

O'Rorke is accused of attempting to aid and abet Ms Forde's suicide between March 10 and April 20 2011 by making arrangements to travel to Zurich in Switzerland.

Secondly she is charged with aiding and abetting Ms Forde's suicide by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance between April 20 and June 6 the same year.

And thirdly that she procured the suicide by making funeral arrangements from June 4-6 in advance of Ms Forde's death.

The court heard a letter had been sent by Dignitas general secretary Ludwig A Minelli which gave Ms Forde the "provisional green light" to attend the clinic in Zurich.

It was also revealed that gardai were alerted to Ms Forde's plans to travel to Switzerland by a travel agent in Rathgar, south Dublin.

The Republic of Ireland decriminalised suicide in 1993 but the jury was told assisting a suicide remains an offence.

The trial heard Ms Forde was confined to a wheelchair in 2008 after suffering substantial injuries in a car accident in Brown Thomas car park in Dublin.

She spent four months in St James' Hospital and underwent three liver operations and had both her knees shattered after leg spasms forced her foot on to the accelerator of her car causing the crash.

As well as the recording, a series of letters were read to the jury including some dictated by Ms Forde to O'Rorke.

They related how in the years before her death Ms Forde's condition deteriorated, she had no energy, she was afraid to use the toilet in case she fell and how O'Rorke frequently came to her rescue.

Ms Forde told how she could not use a specially ordered bed, she could not raise her legs on to a mattress, she was losing the ability to write and even medical appointments became impractical.

O'Rorke did her hair, her shopping and hitched Ms Forde's dresses up to allow her to go to the toilet while sitting.

The taxi driver and carer was also on call to come across the city if Ms Forde fell.

The dictaphone recording revealed her hopes of a death in Dignitas had been dashed and how she had been unaware assisting her to travel could be illegal.

"After the Dignitas experience I realised that I had to do whatever I did on my own that I can't even talk to someone in case they are implicated," Ms Forde said.

"I have no help now at all. It's very difficult. I can't even talk to someone now."

Ms Forde said she saw information about Exit International, which advocates the legalisation of euthanasia, while watching the Late, Late Show on Irish television.

She said she had sourced drugs for her death online from Mexico.

"It's just so difficult that, you know, I just can't do any of this again or any more," she said.

"Hiding it from friends has been difficult. It's just so unfair that you can't come in contact with anyone that I have to be totally alone. No-one, that's just it."

Ms Forde said a suicide note might not be possible because her writing had deteriorated.

"That's why I'm using this, I hope that it will make my wishes, my intention clear to anyone who wants to question it afterward because it's me and totally me and nobody else," she said.

"I suppose I'm just very frustrated that it has to be this way - why it's like that in Ireland, why I can't get to Dignitas where it could all have been done."

Ms Forde is heard apologising a number of times and insisting that she did not want anyone to get into trouble in connection with her death.

She added: "It should not be a question mark because it's what I wanted and what else can I do.

"I'm sorry again but it's just... I don't know... I have to say, this bloody country."

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Remy Farrell, senior counsel for the State, said that the death of Ms Forde's sister from cancer in 2010 acted as a catalyst for her to consider euthanasia.

He told the jury a toxic substance, phenobarbital, was sourced from a man in Mexico and bought online using a money transfer.

Mr Farrell told the court O'Rorke was instrumental in obtaining the drug, making payment and that she was in the house with Ms Forde when the package was delivered.

O'Rorke was on a hotel break in Kilkenny on the night of the death.

Mr Farrell ended his opening statement to the jury by advising them that the trial was not a forum to debate the controversial subject of assisted suicide.

Harrowing words of dying woman

The harrowing words, thoughts and frustrations of a dying MS sufferer were played to a jury in the first trial for assisted suicide in Ireland.

Bernadette Forde, from Morehampton Mews, Donnybrook, Dublin, had been prevented from travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich in 2011 months before her death.

"My name is Bernadette Forde and my date of birth is 16/8/59," she said.

"I have MS, primary progressive, for 10 years diagnosed, but it has got very, very bad in the last number of months.

"I knew that it was getting bad so I had made arrangements to go to Dignitas in Zurich but then my hopes were dashed because the police got to my friend when she went to collect the tickets.

"I had not realised until then that Gail (O'Rorke) and my nephew were going to get into difficulty for assisting even though they weren't actually assisting, they were just going to travel with me to Zurich.

"When I realised that was what was happening I no longer wanted that. I did not want Gail or Mary around anymore if they were going to get into trouble for it because I left so that I would not have anyone after that happening with Dignitas.

"I knew what I wanted to do. I just can't live with this anymore. It's just my life is shit.

"I just can't keep going on with everything, trying to get to the loo, with pads, with seats, everything is just a nightmare.

"After the Dignitas experience I realised that I had to do whatever I did on my own that I can't even talk to someone in case they are implicated.

"I have no help now at all. It's very difficult. I can't even talk to someone now.

"The first thing I did was to go online and see what I could get.

"I had seen a programme, on the Late, Late Show. I had seen online, I had found the Exit International website and started looking for that.

"I even managed to get hold of the stuff from Mexico. I was able to order online and it was delivered to me by courier. That took over two weeks to get here.

"It's just so difficult that, you know, I just can't do any of this again or anymore.

"Hiding it from friends has been difficult. It's just so unfair that you can't come in contact with anyone that I have to be totally alone.

"No-one, that's just it.

"As I said I've got the stuff from Mexico and I do intend to do it but I can't let, as I said, I can't let anyone know... I got this Dictaphone online from Peats on Parnell Square or wherever, the receipt and the instructions on how to use it.

"My writing is very bad so actually a suicide note might not be possible. That's why I'm using this, I hope that it will make my wishes, my intention clear to anyone who wants to question it afterward because it's me and totally me and nobody else.

"I suppose I'm just very frustrated that it has to be this way. Why it's like that in Ireland, why I can't get to Dignitas where it could all have been done.

(Shriek).

"I'm very sorry. I'm just, I think I've said all I'm going to say for a few minutes now."

No sound was audible on the playback for a number of seconds before Ms Forde began to talk again.

"I just need to say that I have a real frustration and problem with the fact that withdrawals or cheques made from my account where totally at my request.

"I'm really frustrated that there could be any question mark about them afterward. What do I do, I'm housebound, I've asked a friend to help and I could not believe that there might be again question marks about that.

"I got my solicitor Maurice O'Callaghan to come out on another visit to my house to help me through this, to tell me what was legal and what wasn't legal.

"I don't want either Gail, my friend, who did things at my request or my sister Catherine who I wanted to give a couple of bob to out of my account, what was is it that I can't access my account, it's just not fair that questions might be asked.

"It should not be a question mark because it's what I wanted and what else can I do.

"I'm sorry again but it's just... I don't know... I have to say, this bloody country."

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