Friday 23 March 2018

Evidence 'from beyond the grave' as assisted suicide case jury hear recorded last words of deceased

Gail O’Rorke of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght, is charged in relation to the suicide of Bernadette Forde in 2011. Photo: Courtpix
Gail O’Rorke of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght, is charged in relation to the suicide of Bernadette Forde in 2011. Photo: Courtpix

Conor Gallagher

The jury in the trial of a woman accused of assisting the suicide of her friend has heard the recorded last words of the deceased.

In her final message Bernadette Forde stated that she was ending her life with no help from others. She expressed her frustration that she has to take her life on her own and couldn’t speak to anyone close to her for fear she “could get them into trouble.”

The 51-year-old, who had worked as a Human Resources manager with Guinness, said that Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis had degraded her quality of life to the point where she wanted to end it with the assistance of the euthanasia organisation, Dignitas, in Zurich, Switzerland.

She said that when this plan failed she ordered 'stuff from Mexico' online and had it delivered by courier.

Ms Forde’s friend and carer Gail O’Rorke is accused at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of helping her commit suicide by assisting her in obtaining and taking the drug phenobarbital.

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

At the start of the trial today prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC told the jury that they will hear evidence “from beyond the grave” in the form of a message recorded by Ms Forde before her death.

The trial heard the message was found on a Dictaphone beside the deceased in her Donnybrook home along with a note that read: “Gardaí I can’t really write. I’ve left a message on this recorder. B. Forde.”

In the recording Ms Forde states that she cannot have “Gail or Mary or anyone” around her anymore for fear she could get them into trouble.

“It’s just so unfair that I can’t contact or chat to anyone and I have to be totally alone. But that’s just it.”

She continued: “I hope it will make my intentions clear to anyone who wants to question it afterwards. It’s me and only me and no one else. I’m just very frustrated it has to be this way. Why is it in Ireland that I can’t get my way to Dignitas?”

In the prosecution’s opening speech, Mr Farrell said 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 in her recorded message, “you might ask yourself later on how reliable you regard evidence from beyond the grave”.

Counsel also said in the opening that the trial is not a forum for debate of the issue of assisted suicide adding: “Such a debate, if it happens, will take place elsewhere.”

Referring to the 1993 Act which decriminalised suicide but made it an offence to assist others to take their life, Mr Farrell said: “This is one of those rare examples in the law where it is an offence to assist someone in doing the act but the act itself is not an offence.”

In a summary of the expected evidence Mr Farrell said Ms Forde decided to end her life after being involved in a car crash which left her permanently confined to a wheelchair. He said another trigger seemed to be the death of her sister from cancer in 2010.

He said Ms Forde got in touch with 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 a 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 Forde was acutely aware that Ms O’Rorke might get into trouble for what had taken place.”

One of the first witnesses in the case was the head of Ms Forde’s housing association who found her body after receiving a call from Ms O’Rorke asking her to check on her.

Elizabeth Cremin said she let herself into Ms Forde’s apartment in Morehampton Mews, Donnybrook 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 had 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 intelligent, very private and very in control of her life.

She said she knew Ms O’Rorke as her carer 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 trial also heard from Garda Andrew Dermody who arrived on the scene and checked Ms Forde for signs of life.

He said he found various medications in the apartment as well as a large amount of documents and correspondence related to Dignitas.

Gda Dermody said he found letters by Ms Forde stating how she couldn’t function without Ms O’Rorke’s assistance in nearly every task.

“I have no energy to do anything” one letter read. “I can’t even hold a book to read. Days and nights are becoming a horror. This is my life and I need Gail to help me to just keep going.”

Another letter detailed the crash she was in in 2008. Ms Forde was driving Ms O’Rorke to lunch when her leg spasmed on the accelerator and she crashed into a wall.

Ms Forde crushed both her legs and was in a coma for a period. She required three surgeries on her liver. Ms O’Rorke was also injured and brought to hospital.

The letter stated that Ms O’Rorke “didn’t hold the crash against me” and that she continued to support and care for Ms Forde who was now no longer independently mobile.

“She deserves so much. I can’t give her anything,” the letter stated.

Gda Dermody also detailed a letter written by Ms Forde to Dignitas stating how difficult her life had become and that she was looking forward to their “positive response.”

A later letter from Dignitas stated that she had been given “a provisional green light” and could travel to Zurich to be assessed by their doctor in advance of an assisted suicide.

Gda Dermody also identified several invoices from Dignitas and a bank transfer to Zurich for €7,633. There were other invoices from the organisation for €1068 and €2648.

There was also a document detailing a €1298 payment to Rathgar Travel.

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

Transcript of Ms Forde’s final message

My name is Bernadette Forde and my date of birth is 16th August 1959 and I have MS for the past 10 years and it has got very very bad in the last number of months and I knew that it was getting bad so I made arrangements to go to Dignitas in Zurich but my hopes were dashed because the police got to my friend when she went to collect the tickets and I hadn’t realised up until then that Gail and my nephew Bernard would have go into difficulty for assisting – although they weren't assisting they were just going to travel with me to Zurich.

I didn’t want Gail or Mary or anyone around any more if they were going to get into trouble for it. I knew that I needed to do it. I just can’t live with this anymore. My life is s**t and I just can’t keep going with everything going to the loo, with pads, with seats, everything is just a nightmare.

After the Dignitas experience I realised that I had to do what I needed to do on my own in case anyone would be implicated. I can’t even talk to anyone. I went online to see what help I could get. I saw a programme on the Late Late and then I found the Exit International website and started looking up what I could do.

I then managed to get a hold of this stuff from Mexico online and it was delivered to me via courier.  That took over two weeks to get here. It was just so difficult. I just can’t do any of this anymore or again. Hiding it from friends has been difficult.

It’s just so unfair that I can’t contact or chat to anyone and I have to be totally alone. But that’s just it. I got stuff from Mexico and I do intend to do it but I can’t let anyone know. I got this Dictaphone online as well from Peats on Parnell Street.  Because my writing is very bad so as a suicide note might not be possible so that’s why I’m using this. I have this stuff there for the guards or whatever along with the receipt and instructions.

I hope it will make my intentions clear to anyone who wants to question it afterwards. It’s me and only me and no one else. I’m just very frustrated it has to be this way. Why is it in Ireland that I can’t get my way to Dignitas?

(Pause in recording)

I just need to say that I have a real frustration and problem with the fact that cheques and withdrawals made from my account were made totally at my request. I’m housebound. I asked a friend to help and I can’t believe they would question her about that.

I got my solicitor to visit my house to find out what was legal and what wasn't legal.  I don’t want Gail or my sister Catherine to do this at my request, who I wanted to give a couple of bob to out of my account – what use is it to me that I can’t access my money.

I’m afraid questions could be asked but there shouldn’t be a question mark because it’s what I wanted and what else can I do? So I don’t know. I have to say this bloody country.

So anyways that’s it. Thank you.

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