A woman has been acquitted of attempting to assist the suicide of her friend by helping her travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.
The jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court took seven hours to find Gail O’Rorke (43) not guilty of the charge after an eight day trial. It was the first prosecution under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 which decriminalised suicide but made it an offence to assist another to end their life.
Ms O'Rorke, Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght was accused of attempting to help Bernadette Forde (51) get to Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas, a plan thwarted when a travel agent alerted gardaí. Ms Forde was suffering from a severe form of multiple sclerosis before her death.
There were cheers and applause from a group of Ms O’Rorke’s supporters when the jury forewoman read out the verdict. Ms O’Rorke wept as she heard the decision.
Judge Patrick McCartan told the jury that it wasn’t an easy case but “justice has been done at your hands”. He said it was clear from the length of deliberations that jurors had taken their oath seriously. He relieved the jury from further service for 10 years.
Ms O’Rorke pleaded not guilty to attempting to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich for such purpose between March 10th and April 20th, 2011.
Last week, following legal argument, Judge McCartan ordered the jury to acquit Ms O’Rorke of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico which were later taken by Ms Forde to end her life on June 5th, 2011.
The judge also told the jury of six men and six women to find Ms O’Rorke not guilty of “procuring” the suicide of her friend by helping to organise her funeral before her death.
The trial heard a garda investigation began after Ms Forde’s body was found in her apartment with the drug pentobarbital nearby. The court heard that pentobarbital is used in capital punishment in the US and in euthanasia.
One of the first pieces of prosecution evidence was an audio message made by Ms Forde which was also found near her body 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.”
Gardaí first became aware of the matter when they were alerted by the manager of Rathgar Travel that a group of people were travelling to Dignitas in Zurich.
Ms O’Rorke told the travel agent the purpose of the trip and this information was passed onto gardaí who were waiting for her when she came to pick up the tickets. Gardaí did not make any arrests but told Ms O’Rorke it was an offence to assist in a suicide.
Ms O’Rorke told gardaí that Ms Forde had her send €400 via Western Union to a man in Mexico. She said she did not know what this was for at the time but did not question it as Ms Forde was always ordering things.
She said Ms Forde later told her the money was for the drug she intended to use to end her life. Ms O’Rorke said that when the drugs arrived she “wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot barge poll” as she was afraid of the legal consequences.
Ms O’Rorke said, on the night of June 5th, 2011, another friend Mary Lundy was to sit with Ms Forde as she took the overdose in her apartment.
“I knew there was a good chance I would ring on Monday morning and she wouldn’t answer. I hoped she had the bravery to do it.” Ms O’Rorke said.
Ms O’Rorke told gardaí that Ms Lundy later told her that she sat with Ms Forde as she took the overdose and left the apartment as she was close to death.
Prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC told the jury that the trial is not a forum for debate on the issue of assisted suicide and “such a debate, if it happens, will take place elsewhere”.
He was “not for a moment” suggesting that Ms O’Rorke was badgering or encouraging her friend to commit suicide and that, on the contrary, she was trying to talk her out of it.
Dermott McGuinness SC, defending, said the prosecution was asking jurors to criminalise the conduct of “an exceptionally good woman”. He asked how Ms O’Rorke could have aided and abetted something that never happened.