Tuesday 26 March 2019

'GP gave her severely disabled daughter 10 times correct dose of sedative', court hears

Dr Bernadette Scully at court, where she pleaded not guilty to the unlawful killing of her daughter, Emily Barut (11) Picture: Collins
Dr Bernadette Scully at court, where she pleaded not guilty to the unlawful killing of her daughter, Emily Barut (11) Picture: Collins

A GP gave her severely disabled daughter 10 times the correct dosage of a sedative used to control epilepsy, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

Dr Bernadette Scully took an overdose of anti-depressants and was found unresponsive by paramedics at the scene.

Dr Scully, of Bachelor's Walk, Tullamore, Co Offaly, has pleaded not guilty to the unlawful killing of her daughter Emily Barut (11) at their home on September 15, 2012.

Dr Scully is accused of causing her daughter's death by gross negligence, involving the administration of an excessive dosage of chloral hydrate, a sedative.

She wept in court as state pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy gave details of the post-mortem examination.


Opening the trial, Tara Burns, for the State, said Emily was born in 2000 with profound mental and physical disabilities, suffering from microcephaly and epilepsy.

Her mother acted as her GP throughout her life and the evidence was that Emily was very well cared for, Ms Burns said.

On September 15, 2012, Dr Scully sent her partner to the chemist with a prescription for anti-depressants and sedatives.

Later that afternoon, Dr Scully went to go for a sleep. Her partner checked her at 7pm and found her still asleep.

At 9pm, he checked Emily and found her cold.

He called an ambulance and mother and daughter were taken to hospital, where Emily was pronounced dead.

Dr Scully was found to have taken an overdose of anti-depressants.

Two weeks before, Emily had undergone a procedure to fit a new feeding peg in her stomach and was subsequently in a lot of pain and sleeping poorly.

Dr Scully had her own medical difficulties, the court heard. She was sleeping badly because she had to care for her daughter and had recently returned to work, having taken some time off.

The court heard that Dr Scully had given an account of what had happened on the night in question, saying Emily was very upset, crying, and was in pain.

She awoke at 2am and Dr Scully administered a dose of chloral hydrate and similarly at 6am, when another dose was given.

At 11am, Emily had a "very significant fit" and again chloral hydrate was given, with the court later hearing that it is used in the treatment of epilepsy.

In all, between 27 and 32ml of chloral hydrate was given by Dr Scully between 2am and 11am and Dr Scully "accepts she gave her too much", said Ms Burns.

She said a toxicology report would show the level found in Emily's blood was 200 micrograms per millilitre.

If the correct amount of the drug had been administered, the level of the metabolised chemical should only be in the range of 10 to 20 micrograms.

Ms Burns told the jury this was without doubt an "extremely sad case" and said there is no doubt that Dr Scully had loved her daughter and cared for her to the highest level.

However, she said this case is about the events of a specific day, when chloral hydrate was administered to Emily to a level within the toxic range.

Dr Scully would have realised that there was a high degree of risk of causing a substantial injury to Emily, Ms Burns told the court.

Prof Cassidy said Emily's brain showed damage from multiple seizures, with one severe seizure occurring some six to eight hours before her death.

Emily remained at risk of a fatal seizure at any time, she added.


Prof Cassidy said there had been a special request for screening for chloral hydrate, which showed a level of 220 micrograms - a level within the fatal range.

The post-mortem showed no specific anatomical cause of death, but Prof Cassidy said this did not exclude epilepsy.

She concluded death was due to chloral hydrate intoxication, with microcephaly, epilepsy and local acute inflammation of the lungs present.

Asked by Ken Fogarty, SC for Dr Scully, whether Emily "could have had a terminal seizure," Prof Cassidy agreed.

Asked whether, if chloral hydrate was taken out of the equation, there was "still sufficient there to cause her death",' Professor Cassidy said "yes".

The trial continues.

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