Wednesday 26 October 2016

Assisted suicide trial: Nephew had 'no problem' helping her travel to euthanasia clinic

Conor Gallagher

Published 21/04/2015 | 18:28

Gail O’Rorke leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Photo: Courts Collins.
Gail O’Rorke leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Photo: Courts Collins.

THE trial of a woman accused of assisting the suicide of her friend has heard that the deceased’s nephew had “no problem” helping her travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.

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Bernard Forde Monaghan told the trial that his aunt, Bernadette Forde (51), who suffered from a severe form of multiple sclerosis, wanted to end her life on her own terms and that nobody could have persuaded her to change her mind.

The witness said he was asked by the accused, Gail O’Rorke to travel with them to Dignitas to help them. He said he presumed he was being asked along to help with heavy lifting such as assisting the wheelchair bound Ms Forde off the plane.

Mr Forde Monaghan said he had no problem helping but that he didn’t know when it was going to happen. The trial heard that the plan to go to Zurich was later interrupted when the travel agent alerted gardaí.

O’Rorke, who was a friend and carer to the deceased, is accused at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of helping her commit suicide by assisting her in obtaining and taking a lethal drug after the failed attempt to travel to Dignitas.

O’Rorke (43), a taxi driver of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght has pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of Ms Forde 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.

Mr Forde Monaghan told prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC that his aunt first brought up Dignitas after the death from cancer of her sister Marcena Forde in 2010.

“She wanted to go on her own terms,” he said. “She said she didn’t want people looking after her the way Marcena was looked after. She didn’t want men to be bathing her or dressing her.”

He said he found out that gardaí had disrupted the Zurich trip in a phone call from Gail. The witness agreed that Ms Forde didn’t give up on the idea of ending her life on her terms and that she said “pills might be the way to go.”

Mr Forde Monaghan said his aunt “had made up her mind alright to end her life and do it her own way. I definitely don’t think anybody would have influenced her not too.”

He agreed with Anne Rowland BL, defending, that she was a very “straight up, determined person” who wanted everything in its right place.

He said he saw Ms O’Rorke as a warm, humorous, caring person who confided and had a laugh with Ms Forde.

The trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of six men and six women.

Earlier, the deceased’s sister, Catherine Campbell, told the court that when Ms Forde told those close to her about her plan to go to Dignitas everyone tried to dissuade her including Ms O’Rorke.

She said she heard Ms O’Rorke talk to Ms Forde about different options such as care homes. She agreed with Dermott McGuinness SC, defending, who put it to her that: “The truth is you were all conscious of her decision and intention and you tried to deflect her from doing it, Gail included.”

Ms Campbell said that Ms O’Rorke had previously written to the Irish Medicines Board asking them to sanction a new MS drug which had come out in the UK and had been in the news. She said Ms Forde would have been “begging” for this.

When counsel informed Ms Campbell that the medicine was eventually sanctioned in July last year she responded: “Oh really? Oh my goodness.”

Ms Campbell said she was relieved when she heard gardaí had intervened in the Zurich trip but that she was disappointed for her sister who was very upset.

The witness said Ms Forde had asked her to travel to Zurich with her but she refused because of a medical condition which made it inadvisable for her to fly.

“I wouldn’t have been willing anyway,” Ms Campbell said. “I wasn’t offering and I wasn’t going. I respected her position but was never happy with it.”

Another sister, Beatrice Forde Monaghan, who is the mother of Bernard, said that Ms Forde never told her about her plans to travel to Zurich and that she found out from Ms Campbell.

Ms Forde Monaghan agreed that she was very religious and wouldn’t have agreed with Ms Forde’s choice. She added that she was a member of a pro-life group

“I would disagree with it but I never voiced it to her,” she said. “You couldn’t really talk to Bernadette like that. She had her own opinions. Being her older sister didn’t make any difference.”

The witness said she learned of the failed Zurich trip when saw an article about it in the Daily Mail after returning from pilgrimage in Lough Derg. She also said that she didn’t know her son had agreed to accompany Ms Forde on the trip until last Monday.

Day three of the trial also heard evidence from Dr Muna Sabah who had been asked to examine Ms Forde’s cause of death.  She said he had died from a lethal dose of pentobarbital, a short acting barbiturate.

Dr Sabah explained that the drug slows down the brain and depresses the central nervous system. She said it is not available here or in the UK and is a highly controlled substance in the US where it is used in capital punishment.

She said pentobarbital is lethal at a concentration of over 40 micrograms per millilitre. The deceased showed a concentration of 53 micrograms per millilitre.

“53 was definitely a lethal concentration,” the doctor commented.

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