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'Assisted suicide' woman's plea

Published 20/04/2015

Gail O'Rorke arrives at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Dublin, where she went on trial in connection with the assisted suicide of MS sufferer Bernadette Forde
Gail O'Rorke arrives at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Dublin, where she went on trial in connection with the assisted suicide of MS sufferer Bernadette Forde

An MS sufferer 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.

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.

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