Thursday 22 March 2018

An independent spirit who wanted to die on her own terms

Bernadette Forde suffered from multiple sclerosis
Bernadette Forde suffered from multiple sclerosis

In July 2010, a small gathering of family was mourning the death of Marcena Forde, who had died after a long struggle with cancer: Marcena's two sisters, Bernadette and her older sibling Catherine Campbell (a third sister Beatrice wasn't present) and a niece and nephew, Catriona and Bernard.

Bernadette, who was wheelchair-bound and suffering from progressive multiple sclerosis, was shaken by how helpless the disease had rendered her sister.

And it was at this get-together that she revealed she wanted to go to Dignitas, the Zurich-based end of life organisation. She told them that she didn't want to go through the same experience as Marcena. The family reactions were very different.

"It was not what I hoped to hear, but Bernadette had her own mind, there was no convincing her," said Catherine Campbell softly, shaking her head.

Bernadette's niece Catriona was very upset, and she and Catherine tried to talk to her about other options, such as palliative care. But they made no headway. Although the oldest sister, Beatrice Forde Monaghan, wasn't at the meeting and hadn't discussed the Dignitas plan, she agreed that Bernadette was "very independent".

It was Day Two of the trial of Gail O'Rorke, who has pleaded not guilty to three charges, including one of trying to assist in a suicide by attempting to make arrangements to travel to Switzerland. The atmosphere in Court 17 was muted, as more details of the sad final days of Bernadette Forde unfolded.

Catherine Campbell, white-haired and clearly nervous, was gently questioned by both legal teams.

Bernadette had asked her to travel to Switzerland with her, but she was unable to go due to a medical condition of her own. She admitted that she was "glad" when the Gardaí intervened and the trip was cancelled.

"She wasn't happy," added Catherine. She said Bernadette later told her she'd ordered something online to end her life. "I asked her when did it expire, hoping it would be years. I think she said 10 or 12 years."

She didn't know when her sister would take her own life, but agreed that in the months before she had died, Bernadette had been packing up things, and giving people mementoes. Catherine had received a cheque for €35,000 and been given a further €8,000 in cash when she visited Bernadette's apartment on the day before she died.

It was her nephew, Bernard Forde Monaghan who agreed to travel to Switzerland. "I had no problem with it," he told the court.

"Bernadette had made up her mind to end her life her own way. 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."

A few feet away, Gail O'Rorke listened as Bernard said he saw his aunt's carer and friend as "warm and humorous - Bernadette could have a laugh with her".

Earlier, the court heard from Dr Anthony Hooper who was called to Bernadette's apartment after her body had been discovered. He described how he had observed a lifeless middle-aged woman in a wheelchair with her feet up on the couch.

Dr Hooper was asked what other impression he had of Bernadette Forde's body.

He thought for a beat. "Peaceful, would be fair."

Irish Independent

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