Court told doctor gave disabled daughter toxic level of sedative before taking overdose

Bernadette Scully has pleaded not guilty to unlawfully killing Emily Barut

Bernadette Scully (58), of Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore, arrives at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, where she is charged with the manslaughter of her daughter Emily Barut (11) in September, 2012. Photograph:  Collins Courts.

Bernadette Scully (58), of Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore, arrives at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, where she is charged with the manslaughter of her daughter Emily Barut (11) in September, 2012. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

A doctor gave her disabled daughter (11) a toxic level of a sedative before taking an overdose herself, a Central Criminal Court manslaughter trial has heard.

Bernadette Scully, a 58-year-old GP, has pleaded not guilty to unlawfully killing Emily Barut at their home at Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore, on September 15th, 2012.

It is alleged Ms Scully killed Emily by an act of gross negligence involving the administration of an excessive quantity of chloral hydrate

Tara Burns SC opened the case for the State, telling the jury that the prosecution had to prove Ms Scully had a duty of care to the deceased on the basis of being both her mother and GP, and that she was in breach of that duty.

She said the prosecution’s case was that there was gross negligence. She said Ms Scully would have realised, if she thought about it at all, that there was a risk of harm.

Ms Burns explained that Emily was born with profound physical and learning disabilities, including microcephaly and epilepsy, and that her mother had acted as her GP throughout her life.

“Emily was very well cared for at home,” she said.

Sleeping poorly

She said that, two weeks before her death, Emily had a surgical procedure to replace a peg in her stomach, through which she was fed and given her medication. She was in a lot of pain and sleeping poorly following this. She said that Ms Scully was in an exhausted state as a result.

Ms Burns said that on September 15th, Ms Scully sent her partner to the pharmacy for anti-depressants and sedatives. He had not seen Emily before going. When he returned, Ms Scully sent him out for food. He still had not seen Emily when Ms Scully went to have a sleep that afternoon.

He found Ms Scully in a deep sleep around 7pm, but did not wake her. He checked on Emily two hours later and found her cold. He called an ambulance and both mother and daughter were taken to hospital, where Emily was pronounced dead.

“Ms Scully had taken an overdose,” she explained.

A postmortem was carried out on Emily and a metabolite of a sedative, chloral hydrate, was found in her blood at a level of 200 micrograms per ml.

Ms Burns said that, if given at the correct dose, a level of between 10 and 20 micrograms would be expected.

“But 200 was found. You’ll hear that level is beyond the therapeutic level and within the toxic range,” she said.

Crying in pain

Ms Burns said that Ms Scully went to a Garda station a few days later and gave an account of what had happened in the early hours of that Saturday. She said that Emily was upset, crying in pain and woke at 2am and 6am. She administered chloral hydrate both times.

She said Emily had a significant fit at 11am and that she gave her chloral hydrate again.

“She accepted she gave her too much,” said Ms Burns.

State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy said Emily was at risk of a potentially fatal seizure at any time and that epilepsy was not excluded as a possible cause of death.

However, the level of chloral hydrate in her blood was such that she gave the cause of death as chloral hydrate intoxication. Contributory factors were microcephaly, abnormality of her brain, epilepsy and acute inflammation of the lungs.

Kenneth Fogarty SC, defending, asked if Emily could have passed away from the seizure, notwithstanding the chloral hydrate levels.

“Yes, she could have had a terminal seizure,” she replied.

The trial continues.