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Woman accused over assisted suicide

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

A taxi driver has gone on trial in Ireland in connection with the assisted suicide of an MS sufferer - the first prosecution of its kind in the country.

Gail O'Rorke, 43, from Kilclare Gardens in Tallaght, Dublin, appeared at the city's Circuit Criminal Court over the assisted suicide of Bernadette Forde.

The 51-year-old died at her home in the capital on June 6 2011 after being denied travel to a clinic overseas.

O'Rorke pleads not guilty to three counts in connection with the death.

She 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.

The second charge states that between April 20 and June 6 in the same year O'Rorke aided and abetted Ms Forde's suicide by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance.

And the third count states that O'Rorke procured the suicide by making funeral arrangements from June 4-6 2011 in advance of Ms Forde's death.

The jurors were told they will hear Ms Forde's last words.

Remy Farrell, senior counsel for the State, told the court the former Guinness employee used a Dictaphone to record her deathbed thoughts as her condition had deteriorated so much by mid-2011 that she could not write a suicide note.

Mr Farrell told the jury: "While hearing evidence from beyond the grave is perhaps an eerie and unusual one, you will have to ask yourself just how reliable hearing evidence from beyond the grave is."

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

The court heard MS is an intolerable and difficult illness and that the issues in the case would be emotive.

Mr Farrell said: "Bernadette Forde had a very strong desire to end her own life and made a very conscious decision to do that."

The jury heard O'Rorke had gone to a travel agent in Rathgar, south Dublin, in the early part of 2011 to arrange travel to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich.

Gardai were notified after she revealed the reason for travel, the court was told.

O'Rorke initially worked as a cleaner for Ms Forde, who herself worked in human resources but was forced to retire on health grounds after being diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2001.

She subsequently was confined to a wheelchair in 2008 after suffering substantial leg injuries in a car accident, the court heard.

Ms Forde took O'Rorke on as a carer, as the pair had grown to be friends, the court heard.

Mr Farrell said that the death of Ms Forde's sister from cancer in 2010 acted as a catalyst for her to consider euthanasia. "That seemed to be a trigger for Bernadette Forde. She revealed to a number of members of her family that she intended to take her own life," he said.

The jury was told that after gardai were notified of the travel plans to Zurich a second plan was hatched and the euthanasia organisation Exit International was contacted.

A toxic substance, phenobarbital, was sourced from a man in Mexico and bought online, the court heard.

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.

The jury was also told Ms Forde died in her home in Donnybrook, south Dublin, on a night that O'Rorke was having a hotel break in Kilkenny.

Mr Farrell told the court that the intention was for O'Rorke to be "nowhere near Bernadette Forde" on the night she died but that she had previously helped make funeral arrangements.

"Gail O'Rorke made funeral arrangements before the suicide. Gail O'Rorke was at all times absolutely aware of the plan that was put in action," the barrister said.

"It's the prosecution case that by placing herself offside, if you want to use the global expression, that Bernadette Forde was in position to take the phenobarbital on the night in question."

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.

The hearing continues.

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