French woman dies after losing euthanasia case

PARIS Wed Mar 19, 2008 11:04pm GMT

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PARIS (Reuters) - A French woman suffering from an incurable and disfiguring cancer was found dead on Wednesday, two days after a court rejected her request for medical assistance to help end her life, a source close to the government said.

Chantal Sebire, 52, whose face was swollen and distorted by a rare tumour in her sinuses, won heavy media coverage and the compassion of many French people in her bid to set a legal precedent for patients like her seeking to end their suffering.

A court in the eastern city of Dijon ruled on Monday that Sebire could not have a doctor help her die because it would breach both the code of medical ethics and the law, under which assisted suicide is a crime.

No details were immediately available on the cause of Sebire's death, which was first reported on the Web site of regional daily Le Bien Public. The source said she was found dead at her home near Dijon.

Sebire's plight sparked a public debate in mainly Catholic France on euthanasia, and she won the support of several public figures including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. President Nicolas Sarkozy met her doctor on Wednesday.

The government initially ruled out passing a reform on euthanasia, but Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office said on Wednesday it would consider the issue. One proposal is for an expert panel to allow assisted suicide in exceptional cases.

Sebire's doctors had said she would fall into a coma and die if she stopped taking medication to deal with the rare tumour, but she insisted on going to court to try to secure the right to an assisted suicide, which would be less painful.

Active euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg, but French courts regularly rule against doctors who administer lethal drugs to end life, although they are usually spared prison.

Opponents of euthanasia, including the Roman Catholic Church, say the sanctity of life overrides all other factors. Many also say a right to kill patients could easily be abused.

"I want to die partying surrounded by my children, friends and doctors before falling asleep for good at dawn," Sebire had told reporters.

(Reporting by Thierry Leveque and Jean-Baptiste Vey; writing by Francois Murphy)

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