An Irish woman has been acquitted of attempting to assist her friend to take her own life by helping her travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.
43-year-old Gail O’Rorke, from Tallaght, Dublin, was accused of attempting to help her friend, 51-year-old Bernadette Forde to reach Dignitas for the purpose of ending her own life. Instead, the travel agent alerted Gardai and a case was put in motion, the first of its kind under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 which decriminalized suicide but made it an offence to assist another person to end their life.
Last week, the judge directed the jury that there was insufficient evidence to convict Ms. O’Rorke of two related offences, firstly the charge that she had ordered a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico. It was these drugs that later ended Ms. Forde’s life when she took them on June 5th, 2011; and secondly the charge of “procuring” the suicide by helping Ms. Forde to make funeral arrangements before her death.
Ms. Forde left a verbal suicide note before she passed away and this was one of the pieces of prosecution evidence produced in the court.
She said that after the “Dignitas experience”, she did not feel that she could involve any people in what she was going to do. In her verbal message she stated that could not have “Gail or Mary or anyone” around her anymore in case they got 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.”
A Garda investigation began after Ms. Forde’s body was found in her apartment with the drug pentobarbital nearby. This drug is used both in capital punishment and in euthanasia.
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While there was applause in the court from some of Ms. O’Rorke’s supporters when the verdict was announced, there will be concern that this case could be used by some to try and liberalise the laws in Ireland, which make it illegal for a person to assist in the suicide of another.
Pro-life campaigners say that laws like this are the only to ensure that the seriously or terminally ill members of society can be adequately protected from external pressures, however well-meaning the motivations. They point to the fact that suffering is not alleviated by ending the life of the person who is suffering, and the best way to care for those who are ill is to help with the source of the despair or vulnerability experienced.
In practical terms, this means providing proper palliative care, pain relief, and human company so that those who, like Ms. Forde, were very independent before their illness, do not feel that they are a burden on anyone.
These very practical but comforting measures are the only way we have as a society of reassuring the very ill that their lives are cherished and valued just as much as the healthy among us.