Debate rages as right-to-die campaigner dies

A FRENCH “right to die” advocate who was refused permission for an assisted suicide has been found dead in the latest twist to a drama that has reopened a euthanasia debate the country thought it had concluded three years ago.

Officials gave no details yesterday about how Chantal Sebire, 52, died late on Wednesday. She suffered from a rare and painful sinus tumour, a condition called esthesioneuroblastoma or ENB, that robbed her of taste, smell and sight and made her eye sockets bulge out many times their normal size.

On Monday, a court in Dijon refused her request for help to die because that would breach medical ethics and an end-of-life law passed in 2005 allows “passive euthanasia” but bars assisted suicide.

Government spokesman Luc Chatel said Jean Leonetti, the deputy from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party who wrote that law, would review it in the next few weeks to see “if there is now the will to go further than the law of 2005”.

The Sebire case has prompted calls for a new law allowing for exceptions to the assisted suicide ban in extreme cases. But many politicians warned legalised euthanasia could be misused.

“We will have to act quickly, because exceptional cases like that of Chantal Sebire are occurring regularly,” said Chatel.

The euthanasia debate also occurs regularly in France, where polls show many sympathise with suffering patients seeking a painless death but balk at legalising active euthanasia.

The 2005 law was passed after a mother helped a doctor end the life of her son who was left blind, mute and paralysed after a road accident.

Leonetti said the law allowed doctors to sedate terminal patients heavily and wait for their death.

“I don’t know how Chantal Sebire died, but one could imagine that she took her own life,” said Leonetti.

Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot, said the law should be better explained to doctors and patients.

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