France Wrestles With Euthanasia

PARIS (AP) -- A woman with a rare tumor that had eaten away at her face is accomplishing in death what she could not do while alive: reviving the debate over euthanasia in France.

Chantal Sebire failed to convince a court to allow her to undertake a "doctor-assisted suicide" with a lethal dose of barbiturates to forever end her suffering. Her sudden death on Wednesday - two days after the court refused her request - brought calls to re-evaluate French law to assure the right to die.

"The demand to calm suffering is a legitimate demand," Justice Minister Rachida Dati said Thursday.

A French law adopted in 2005 allows terminally ill people to refuse treatment in favor of death but stops short of allowing active euthanasia.

Dati said the law needs to be revisited for "necessary adaptations" but other government ministers disagree, highlighting the difficulties raised in legislating an ethical issue.

Not all European countries ban euthanasia. In neighboring Belgium, 78-year-old Belgian writer Hugo Claus, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, ended his life in an Antwerp hospital by euthanasia - on the day Sebire died.

"He himself picked the moment of his death and asked for euthanasia," not wanting to extend his suffering, his wife, Veerle De Wit, said in a statement.

Euthanasia is also legal in the Netherlands. In Switzerland, counselors or physicians can prepare the lethal dose, but patients must take it on their own. Luxembourg is in the process of passing a law to allow euthanasia.

Sebire, a former teacher who died at age 52, was diagnosed nearly eight years ago with esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. A tumor had burrowed through her sinuses and nasal cavities, causing her nose to swell to several times its original size and pushing one eyeball out of the socket, completely exposing it.

"Some of my bones are eaten into. I don't have upper and lower jaws anymore," she said on Feb. 28. "At the moment, we don't know by what miracle my teeth are still holding. ... I ask to be helped to die because I don't want this tumor to have the last word."

She had difficulty eating, slept sitting up and often suffered hemorrhages, according to her lawyer, Gilles Antonowicz.

It was not immediately known what killed Sebire or whether there would be a full investigation. She was found in her home in the Dijon region east of Paris by the eldest of her three children, who are aged 29, 27 and 13, prosecutor Jean-Pierre Alacchi said.

The prosecutor said Wednesday night that several samples had been taken from her body and "normally we will know what she died of in the near future, I hope."

An investigation into her death would amount to a "judicial grenade," Antonowicz warned.

"Let us not be hypocritical," the lawyer said in an interview with Associated Press Television News. "Understand there is a canal 30 meters (about 100 feet) from Madame Sebire's house. If Madame Sebire had thrown herself into the canal, they would have said she drowned ... and there would have been no other inquiries."

The 2005 law was also born of dramatic circumstances: the 2003 death of a 22-year-old man who had begged for the right to die after a traffic accident left him deaf, mute and paralyzed.

Vincent Humbert died after his mother allegedly gave him a dose of sedatives that induced a coma, and doctors then cut off his life support.

After a lengthy trial, the law easing earlier restrictions was passed.

Jean-Luc Romero, president of France's Association for the Right to Die in Dignity, said the law as it stands would have allowed Sebire to go into a drug-induced coma, then die slowly of thirst and starvation - an option he calls "unimaginable" - and which Sebire refused.

Didier Sicard, former head of a national ethics committee, said he is opposed to a new law on euthanasia "based on a particular situation." But Family Affairs Minister Nadine Morano pressed for a committee on the "euthanasia exception" that would treat "very specific" cases like that of Sebire.

Socialist lawmaker Gaetan Gorce, co-author of the 2005 law, agreed with Morano.

"You cannot leave families, the ill, in such dramatic situations with no way out. On the other hand, you cannot create a right to die, a right to death," he said. "That would be contrary to our principles and our values."


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email: feedback@wibw.com
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 16863566