French Euthanasia Advocate Chantal Sebire Died of Suicide Drug Overdose

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 28, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

French Euthanasia Advocate Chantal Sebire Died of Suicide Drug Overdose Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 28
, 2008

Paris, France ( — French euthanasia advocate Chantal Sebire died of an overdose of narcotic drugs, authorities have determined, in what appeared to be a suicide. 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.

Jean-Pierre Alacchi told reporters, "The tests conducted reveal the presence in the blood of a toxic concentration of barbiturate, Pentobarbital."

He said Sebire ingested three times the lethal amount of the drug than is normally given when used in euthanizing animals, according to an AFP report.

The drug is not normally available from French pharmacies and authorities are investing how she obtained it. The drug is also used in legal assisted suicides in Switzerland and Belgium and in Oregon in the United States.

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."

Following Sebire’s death, several top officials have said it may be necessary to review the nation’s law.

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.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Sebire said that the pain had extended across other parts of her body, and she had no quality of life.

"It is not only the face. Some of my bones are eaten into. I don’t have any more upper and lower jaws," she said.

"At the moment we don’t know by what miracle my teeth are still holding. My gums are falling apart. You see the deformation of my face. It compresses inside."

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.