By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — An American right-to-die campaigner has admitted he flew to Ireland with another man and helped a severely depressed Dublin woman to end her own life in what is the country’s first case of assisted suicide.
After breaking down the door to a rented townhouse in Donnybrook on Jan. 26, gardai found Elizabeth Toole Gilhooley, 49, lying on a bed with a makeshift plastic mask and a tank of helium gas.
Gardai are investigating the involvement of two men who they believe flew in from the U.S. and were with Toole Gilhooley when she died. She is a former bank official who was separated from her husband.
Suicide was decriminalized in Ireland in 1993, but it is an offense carrying a maximum 14-year sentence for anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another.”
The dead woman had previously sought help from and had been turned down by a retired Scottish physician, Dr. Libby Wilson, who is involved with a pro-voluntary euthanasia group called FATE (Friends at the End).
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She had tried to talk Toole Gilhooley out of killing herself and said she was suffering from a severe depression illness, police said.
Meanwhile, the Rev. George Exoo of Beckley, W.V., said he had nothing to hide. He and his live-in companion, Thomas McGurrin, sat with Toole Gilhooley as she took her life.
“I gave her instructions, but that’s what we do. And provided spiritual support for her,” Exoo told the Charleston Gazette in an interview published on the West Virginia newspaper’s website.
Gardai are expected to seek the men’s extradition. Exoo said he hadn’t known assisted suicide was a crime in Ireland. He called it “a horrible law” and said he would meet with his lawyer before speaking to the Irish authorities.
Gardai have taken fingerprints from the Donnybrook house, are checking telephone records and have removed a computer to check e-mails. CCTV at the airport is also being checked.
Exoo runs Compassionate Chaplaincy, a tax-exempt organization that counsels people seeking to commit suicide.
A minister at New River Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, Exoo said he had met Toole Gilhooley through a referral.
There have been reports that the pair were paid a fee and their organization had been willed money by Toole Gilhooley, but Exoo said they had received $2,500 to cover the cost of their airfares and hotel accommodation.
Exoo told the Gazette, “She had reported to me that she had a build-up of something or other in her brain.
“The doctors were not able to control it. She had some kind of shunt she showed us placed in her chest, and it was unable to control the stuff. . . . She had gone through real hell and there was no relief in sight for her.”
On his way home from Ireland, Exoo said he and McGurrin had gone to Amsterdam to try to trace his roots. The dead woman had taken a day trip with them to Mayo to try to find McGurrin’s relatives.
He had asked Toole Gilhooley, “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re so cheerful,” said Exoo, who said she replied, “Yes, I really have enjoyed these two days with you, but I will be miserable.”
Exoo said she had already bought five tanks of helium — enough for 20 deaths and had collected up a lot of pills, some of which she had ground up before they arrived.
“She had gone way overboard on everything because she did not want to fail,” Exoo said. “She had tried to end her life once before and had failed.”
He told the Gazette he had probably attended 100 suicides.
Most people want him to read or talk while they took their life, but Toole Gilhooley wanted a last puff on a cigarette.
“The last thing she did before she pulled down the bag was take one last toke on the cigarette,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, Rosemary, time to put down the cigarette if you don’t mind.'”
They waited for half an hour after she stopped breathing and then left, he said.