Jury told trial is not a forum for debate on the legality of assisted suicide

Gail O'Rorke
Gail O'Rorke

The jury in the trial of a Dublin woman accused of helping her friend take her own life has been told the trial is not a forum for debate on the legality of assisted suicide.

Gail O’Rorke (43), a taxi driver of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght has pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of Bernadette Forde (51) by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance between April 20, 2011 and June 6, 2011 at a location in Dublin.

She also denies that she attempted to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich, Switzerland for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011.

She further denies that she procured the suicide of Ms Forde between June 4, and June 6, 2011 by means of making funeral arrangements for Ms Forde in advance of her death.

The trial has begun hearing evidence from witnesses, including from the woman who first found Ms Forde’s body.

In his opening speech to the jury, prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC told jurors that they may have strong views on the issue of assisted suicide but that “such a debate, if it happens, will take place elsewhere.”

“You are expected to leave personal views of this sort at the door,” he said.

In a summary of the expected evidence Mr Farrell said that Ms O’Rorke worked as a carer for Ms Forde, who in 2011 was in the advanced stages of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

He said before the disease Ms Forde had a successful career in the Human Resources Department of Guinness. He said she decided to end her life after being involved in a car crash which left her permanently confined to a wheelchair. He said a trigger seemed to be the death of her sister from cancer in 2010.

He said Ms Forde got in touch with the euthanasia organisation, Dignitas, in Zurich. Dignitas gave the go ahead for her to come to Zurich in early 2011 and Mr Farrell alleges that Ms O’Rorke helped Ms Forde make travel arrangements.

He said they were upfront with a travel agency about why they were travelling to Zurich and the gardaí were alerted as a result. Counsel said that gardaí put a stop to the travel plans, leaving Ms O’Rorke in no doubt that what she was doing was illegal.

He said Ms Forde then contacted another euthanasia organisation called Exit International and decided to end her life by taking a drug called phenobarbital.

Mr Farrell said:

“She had to settle on a means, not unduly painful or distressing, not something violent and also something that is reliable.”

Counsel said Ms O’Rorke was “instrumental in obtaining the substance. She was instrumental in making payment to man in Mexico for the substance.” He said the drug was later brought to the house by a delivery man who will give evidence in the trial.

He said the accused also helped Ms Forde make funeral arrangements in advance of her death.

The jury was told that Ms O’Rorke was nowhere near Ms Forde on the night she took her own life. She was in a hotel room in Kilkenny which had been paid for by Ms Forde.

“This is because Bernadette  was acutely aware that Ms O’Rorke might get into trouble for what had taken place.”

The prosecuting counsel told the jury that “somewhat eerily you will hear Ms Forde’s last words.”

He said jurors will hear a recording of Ms Forde’s “suicide note”. He said Ms Forde’s fingers had ceased to function properly as a result of the disease so she resorted to using a Dictaphone.

He said they will hear that Ms Forde was eager not to implicate other people, particularly Ms O’Rorke.

He said that although Ms Forde was undoubtedly acting honourably towards Ms O’Rorke, “you might ask yourself later on how reliable you regard evidence from beyond the grave.”

The head of the residential association in Morehampton Mews in Donnybrook where Ms Forde lived gave evidence that she found the body after receiving a call from Ms O’Rorke asking her to check on Ms Forde.

Elizabeth Cremin said she let herself into Ms Forde’s apartment and saw her in her wheelchair with her feet up on the couch.

“It looked like she was asleep but by her pallor I knew that she wasn’t,” the witness said. “She looked very, very pale and like she was sleeping.”

Ms Cremin said that she was aware that Ms Forde was planning on ending her life. She said that Ms Forde asked her to sit with her while she did this but that she refused because she “didn’t have the courage” and she knew it would be illegal.

She said she told Ms Forde she would help her “within the law.”

Ms Cremin described the deceased as someone who was very private and very in control of her life.

She said she knew Ms O’Rorke but agreed with defence counsel Dermott McGuinness SC that she was not in a position to tell the jury that Ms O’Rorke did anything to help Ms Forde end her life.

The jury has also heard from Garda Andrew Dermody who was called to the scene and found Ms Forde’s body with medication nearby. He also found a Dictaphone with a note beside it which read: “Gardaí I can’t really write. I’ve left a message on this recorder. B. Forde.”

The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, continued before Judge Patrick McCartan.