Doctor denies note acknowledged she caused daughter’s death

A doctor on trial, charged with the manslaughter of her profoundly disabled daughter by giving her too much sedative, has denied that a suicide note she wrote afterwards was acknowledgment that she caused the girl’s death, saying: “I had lost my reason for living”.

Bernadette Scully, back right in hat, at court yesterday, is shielded by her supporters. Picture: Courtpix

The 58-year-old was being cross-examined by the State yesterday on the eighth day of her trial.

The Offaly GP is charged with unlawfully killing 11-year-old Emily Barut, who was profoundly disabled, at their home at Emvale, Bachelor’s Walk, Tullamore. It is alleged she killed her by an act of gross negligence involving the administration of an excessive quantity of chloral hydrate on Saturday, September 15, 2012.

She has pleaded not guilty and is on trial at the Central Criminal Court.

She said she had administered chloral hydrate when her daughter became upset at 2am and 6am. She said her daughter then had a massive fit after 11am.

“So, you decide you need to do something to stop this fit?” asked Tara Burns, prosecuting.

“I was standing there with her, not there with my logical medical head on me,” she replied.

“I was working with my emotional mind, as a mother, looking at my baby, thinking I am going to have to stop this fit.”

She said that chloral hydrate was the only anticonvulsant she had.

Ms Burns said the drug’s use as an anticonvulsant might be at issue.

Ms Scully said she had looked up the medical literature and found a residential centre in Britain where chloral hydrate was used for children with epilepsy.

“They’re giving it, a 10ml dosage to children Emily’s age every four to six hours, so it is documented,” she added.

“I think, faced with that horrendous fit she was in, I was thinking: ‘What can I give her?’” she explained.

She was asked why she had brought the bottle of chloral hydrate to the bedroom, rather than filling the syringe at the kitchen sink.

“My child is in the room in the middle of this fit,” she replied.

“I’m not going to stand in the kitchen and fill a syringe. I’m running to try to get back to her.”

She said it was really quite a stressful situation, describing it as pandemonium: “If you’re in a hospital, you don’t have that emotional contact that I have with my Emily so you’re not standing back and thinking.”

Ms Burns questioned her about the aftermath of Emily’s passing, when she wrote a suicide note and made two attempts to take her own life.

“Can I suggest to you that the reason for that action was an acknowledgement by you after Emily’s death that you had been a cause of her passing?” she asked.

“I wasn’t the cause,” she replied. “I did not cause Emily’s death. It’s so hurtful to hear that.”

She said she and her daughter were “just tied together”, that she had slept beside her all her life.

It was put to her that she had accepted she had given her too much in her voluntary statement to gardaí.

“I gave Emily too much in relation to what I normally gave her,” she replied. “I would not normally give two doses in one sitting. That’s what I meant by that.”

Ms Burns suggested that her actions afterwards supported a proposition that she had felt responsible for Emily’s death.

“No I didn’t. I wanted to go with Emily,” she said. “Emily came before anything in my life.”

The barrister then asked her to explain two portions of the note.

“If anyone thinks I’m awful for doing this, you should have listened to poor little Emily crying the last eight days. I love her dearly, Bernie,” she read from the envelope in which the note was found.

“I meant, if anyone thinks I’m awful for killing myself. I’m talking about as the doctor, who was working with people who had committed suicide and I was letting them down,” replied Ms Scully.

“I was very distressed after seeing her suffer so much and I couldn’t save her. I wanted to save her.”

Ms Burns then read from the letter: “I do not want to die. I can not let Emily’s suffering continue. I can’t watch it any longer. The pain is too big, the struggle each day is too hard, the loneliness and isolation too much.”

Ms Scully said she meant that she could not let Emily’s suffering continue elsewhere: “I can not watch this world without her. The loneliness and isolation would be too much without her. I did not have my thoughts clearly organised on paper.”

Ms Burns noted that she had an absolute love for Emily and had attempted to have her treated with dignity during her life.

However, she suggested: “Your conduct after the event doesn’t seem to equate with a respect for Emily in terms of letting her peacefully pass. There instead seems to be, by your actions, an acknowledgement that this is laid at your door.”

Ms Scully didn’t agree: “I had lost my reason for living. I had lost my Emily. I left Emily in my bed where she wanted always to be.”

She said Emily was always happiest in that bed, on her chest: “I laid her peacefully on my bed. I did not want to go on. I did not want to live after Emily was gone.”

She said she’d had a life of sleep deprivation, of pain, of watching her suffer: “I had this beautiful little baby. She was like my little bird with a broken wing. My job was to protect her, and not just medically, as her mother.”

She said they had suffered so much at the hands of services that were not there: “We were forced back into our little shell. I created a little world at home for her. It was her beautiful little world.”

Ms Burns said that evidence of a nice conversation she’d had with her partner’s daughter; her tone of voice in a recorded call to the poisons centre; and her bringing the bottle and syringes back to the kitchen afterwards suggested someone who was together.

“I wasn’t OK after Emily died,” she said.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and a jury of seven women and five men.



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