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Jury out in 'assisted suicide' case

Published 27/04/2015

Gail O'Rorke is charged with attempting to aid and abet a friend's death by arranging travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland
Gail O'Rorke is charged with attempting to aid and abet a friend's death by arranging travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland

The jury in the trial of a taxi driver in connection with the alleged assisted suicide of an MS sufferer have begun their deliberations.

In the first prosecution of its kind in Ireland, Gail O'Rorke, 43, from Kilclare Gardens in Tallaght, Dublin, is charged with attempting to aid and abet a friend's death by arranging travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland between March 10 and April 20 2011.

Bernadette Forde, 51, a former employee with Guinness, died at her home in Morehampton Mews, Donnybrook, Dublin on June 6 2011.

She was unable to travel to Zurich after a travel agent alerted gardai that flights had been booked.

O'Rorke, who was Ms Forde's cleaner before becoming her friend and carer over 10 years, was last week found not guilty on two charges at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court over the alleged assisted suicide.

Judge Patrick McCartan directed the verdicts.

O'Rorke pleaded not guilty to three counts in connection with the death. She was cleared of aiding and abetting Ms Forde's suicide between April 20 and June 6 in 2011 by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance.

She was also found not guilty of procuring the suicide by making funeral arrangements from June 4-6 2011 in advance of Ms Forde's death.

Ms Forde was found dead in a wheelchair in her living room having taken a lethal dose of barbiturates sourced from Mexico.

Judge McCartan told the jury of six men and six women to return a unanimous verdict.

"You come from the real world," the judge said.

"You bring everyday experience to bear and that's important because common sense is a cornerstone of the justice system.

"We ask you to bring that to bear on the facts of the case - everyday experience is important, experience of life is important when it comes to decide the facts."

Ms Forde was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2001 and had to give up her job in the human resources department in Guinness.

In 2008 she was confined to a wheelchair after a car accident in which her leg seized on the accelerator, slamming her vehicle into a wall.

She spent four months in hospital after that, had multiple liver surgery and both knees were left shattered.

The court heard O'Rorke went from being a cleaner to becoming her friend and carer.

Judge McCartan also told the jury ignorance of the law was not a defence.

The jury asked for a copy of a recording of Ms Forde's last words - a suicide note she made using a tape recorder as she was too frail to write.

The judge said O'Rorke and Ms Forde engaged in an endeavour to get to Zurich not knowing that the attempt could be illegal.

"That's where the accused is to be criticised, if at all," the judge said.

The jury were also told O'Rorke was effectively "caught red-handed" when she arrived at a travel agents in Rathgar, south Dublin, to collect tickets for the flights.

Judge McCartan said the deliberations should not be dictated by emotions.

"This is a case that undoubtedly has a high degree of emotions attached to it. The unfortunate and hapless position of Ms Forde, who in her final moments pleaded for someone to be with her as she departed this world," he said.

"This is not about emotions. This is asking you to be fair and to be devoid, so to speak."

Judge McCartan said a true verdict would be hard to achieve if the jury was driven by emotions.

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