Tuesday 20 February 2018

Hushed court listens as voice of dead woman speaks for the living

Bernadette Forde suffered from multiple sclerosis
Bernadette Forde suffered from multiple sclerosis
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

The sound of a woman's laugh echoed around the hushed court-room. But there was no merriment in it, just a broken note of despair, a final flicker of grim humour amid the gathering dark. "It's just this...I don't know...I have to say...this bloody country," said Bernadette Forde, and then her voice fell silent.

But the speaker wasn't in Court 12. Multiple sclerosis sufferer Bernadette was found dead in a wheelchair in the sitting room of her home in Donnybrook, south Dublin on June 6, 2011. Beside her body was a dictaphone containing her dying words, and it was this testimony which was played to the jury of six men and six women.

A few feet away, a blonde woman dressed in black wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue. Dublin taxi driver Gail O'Rorke - who was also a carer and close friend of Bernadette - has pleaded not guilty to three charges, including one of trying to assist in a suicide by making arrangements for the stricken woman to travel to end of life organisation Dignitas in Switzerland.

Earlier, the court had heard how the 51-year old had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in 2001. Her condition had been compounded by a car accident in 2008.

Faced with what prosecution counsel Remy Farrell described as the "bleak prospect" of a difficult death and increasingly restricted mobility, she decided to end her own life, and first made arrangements to travel to Zurich, but her plans were derailed when a travel agent tipped off gardai.

Bernadette then took refuge in the internet, and sourced drugs in Mexico to assist her death. By this stage her handwriting had deteriorated to the point that she feared a suicide note would be illegible, so she bought a dictaphone online.

Mr Farrell had warned the jury in advance that they would hear "eerie" evidence from "beyond the grave", explaining that under the 1993 Act it isn't a crime to commit suicide but it is a crime to assist someone in suicide.

Bernadette Forde may have been speaking almost four years after her death, but there was a heartbreaking rawness to the avalanche of emotions which spilled from the tape - frustration, loneliness and despair. She spoke of her fear that Gail O'Rorke or her nephew would end up in trouble for helping her. "I didn't want Gail or anyone harmed if they were going to get into trouble for it... but I knew what I need to do I can't, I just can't live with this anymore, it is just my life is s**t and I just can't keep going," she said. "Hiding it from friends has been difficult and it's just so unfair that I can't have any contact or chat to anyone - that I have to be totally alone."

Bernadette had left other correspondence too, among them an account of the extent of her dependency on Gail, of how her friend washed her hair, lifted the back of her nightgown so she could use the toilet, brought her to endless medical appointments, decorated her house at Christmas and wrapped her presents.

There wasn't a sound in the courtroom - except for the voice of a dead woman speaking on behalf of the living.

Irish Independent

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