France Sees Euthanasia Debate After Woman Pressing for Assisted Suicide Dies

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 20, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

France Sees Euthanasia Debate After Woman Pressing for Assisted Suicide Dies Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 20
, 2008

Paris, France ( — France is embroiled in a contentious euthanasia debate following the death of a woman who pressed for a law there to legalize assisted suicide. Chantal Sebire wanted help to take her own life because she had a rare tumor that was ravaging her face and she unsuccessfully pressed for France to allow the practice.

Sebire died suddenly on Wednesday, just two days following a court’s decision denying her the ability to have a physician prescribe her a lethal dose of drugs.

France adopted a law in 2005 that allows patients to refuse lifesaving medical treatment, but it does not allow assisted suicide nor does it allow euthanasia — where a doctor would actively administer the toxic drugs.

The law says medical treatment should not include "unreasonable efforts" and that a terminally ill patient should be able to "limit or stop all treatment."

Doctors can stop giving treatment when it "seems useless, disproportionate or has no effect other than maintaining life artificially."

Justice Minister Rachida Dati, a top French government official, told the Associated Press that Sebire’s death raises "a legitimate demand" for assisted suicide. He says the law may need to be re-evaluated but other government officials disagree.

Should France legalize assisted suicide it would join other European nations in doing so.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands and Belgium, Switzerland allows assisted suicide, and Luxembourg has given initial approval to a bill allowing doctors to help patients kill themselves without facing any legal consequences.

According to AP, Sebire’s cause of death is unknown and she was discovered dead in her home by her three adult children. French police may begin an investigation and are currently in the process of conducting an autopsy.

Last year, a French doctor and nurse were the latest on trial for killing a patient without his consent.

Laurence Tramois, a doctor, and Chantal Chanel, a nurse, both were the subjects of a trial in March 2007 concerning the death of a 65-year-old patient.

At that time, more than 2,000 doctors and nurses signed a petition saying they had also engaged in euthanasia. Reuters reported them as wanting the nation’s law changed.

The issue of legalizing euthanasia in France was first advanced when 22 year-old Vincent Humbert, a paralyzed man, took his life with his mother’s help.

Humbert’s mother allegedly injected him with a fatal dose of sedatives that placed him in a coma and doctors then agreed to cut his life support.