The first case of its kind in Ireland, the trial of Gail O’Rorke accused of assisting her friend in taking her own life, has heard the dead woman’s recorded suicide note.
Bernadette Forde (51), who suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting movement, sensation, and bodily functions, had been unable to write her own suicide note and so recorded it on a Dictaphone.
On Monday afternoon, the jury at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Forde’s last words. She said, “It has got very, very bad in the last number of months.
“I knew that it was getting bad so I had 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.”
Her friend, taxi-driver Gail O’Rorke, has pleaded not guilty to three counts in connection to Forde’s assisted suicide.
Forde died at her home on June 6, 2011.
In her recorded note Forde said, “I knew what I needed to do because I just couldn’t live with this anymore – my life is s**t.
“I just can’t keep going.
“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.”
She continued, “I hope that it [the recording] will make my wishes and my intentions clear to anyone who wants to question it afterwards.
“It’s me and totally me, and nobody else.
“It shouldn’t be a question mark because it’s what I wanted - and what else can I do?”
O’Rorke, from Kilclare Gardens, in Tallaght, Dublin, is accused in connection to her suicide on three counts. Firstly for attempting to aid Forde’s suicide between March 10 and April 20, 2011, by making arrangements to travel to a the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, Switzerland.
Secondly, that she aided and abetted Forde’s suicide by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance.
And thirdly, that she allowed the suicide to go ahead as O’Rorke allegedly made funeral arrangements from June 4 to 6, 2011 in advance of Forde’s death.
On Monday morning the lawyer for the State, Remy Farrell, told the jury, “While hearing evidence from beyond the grave is perhaps an eerie and unusual one, you will have to ask yourself just how reliable hearing evidence from beyond the grave is."
Although Ireland decriminalized suicide in 1993 it is still an offense to assist in someone’s suicide. If convicted O’Rorke could face 14 years in prison.
Farrell also told the jury how intolerable MS is and how emotional and difficult this trial was likely to become.
“Bernadette Forde had a very strong desire to end her own life and made a very conscious decision to do that," Farrell said.
The jury was told that O’Rorke had visited a travel agent in Rathgar, south Dublin, in early 2011 to arrange travel to Dignitas clinic, in Zurich. The police were notified after O’Rorke explained the purpose of the trip.
After the police were informed a second plan was made and the euthanasia organization Exit International was contacted. Pentobarbital, a toxic substance, was procured from a man in Mexico and bought online. The court heard that O’Rorke was instrumental in purchasing this drug. They also heard that she was in the house with Forde when it was delivered.
When Forde died, at her home in Donnybrook, Dublin, O’Rorke was on vacation in Kilkenny.
Farrell said the intention was for O’Rorke to be “nowhere near Bernadette Forde” on the night she died but she had already helped to make funeral arrangements.
The lawyer said “Gail O'Rorke made funeral arrangements before the suicide. Gail O'Rorke was at all times absolutely aware of the plan that was put in action.
"It's the prosecution case that by placing herself offside, if you want to use the global expression, that Bernadette Forde was in position to take the phenobarbital on the night in question."
Ending his opening statement, at Dublin’s Circuit Criminal Court, he told the jury that this trial was not forum for the debate of the controversial subject of assisted suicide.
Also on Monday afternoon the court, presided over by Judge Patrick McCartan, heard from Elizabeth Cremin, who found Forde’s body.
Cremin, who had known Forde for three or four years, had a key to the apartment in case of emergencies. On June 6, 2011 she received a call from O’Rorke who was in Kilkenny. O’Rorke said she had been trying to make contact with Forde, unsuccessfully, and asked Cremin to check in on her.
Cremin told the court that she discovered Forde in her wheelchair with her legs on the couch. She told the court “She looked liked she was asleep but by her pallor I realized she wasn’t.”
She phoned the police and waited for them to arrive. Cremin also told the court that Forde had been very independent and that she had been aware for some time that she intended to end her life. She said the called from O’Rorke that day “wasn’t exactly unexpected”.
The trial continues.
Read more: Breaking my silence on living with MS