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Chantal Sebire died of barbiturates overdose

Euthanasia advocate took pentobarbitol, prescribed for assisted suicide in other European countries.

Chantal Sebire, a terminal cancer sufferer who had failed to change French law to allow doctors to help her commit suicide, was found dead earlier this week.

"We can say Mrs Sebire did not die of natural causes, as shown by the autopsy," said prosecutor Jean-Pierre Alacchi at a press conference in Dijon, "but from absorbing a lethal dose of barbiturate."

Her post-mortem tests showed the barbiturate Pentobarbital at three times the lethal level in her bloodstream. Pentobarbital is a drug used for animal euthanasia and is legally prescribed for assisted suicide in Switzerland and Belgium, as well as in the US state of Oregon. However, it is not available in French pharmacies.

Investigators are still not sure how Sebire obtained the drug, nor how it was administered, so there is currently debate on whether her death was suicide or assisted suicide. Her lawyer, Gilles Antonowicz, would say only that Sebire had "put an end to her own suffering. She delivered herself, but I do not wish to talk of suicide, because that was not Mrs Sebire's intention".

Euthanasia advocate found dead

Chantal Sebire, who had requested doctors' aid to end her own life, is found dead

blog imageJust a week ago, a court in Dijon refused Sebire, 52, the right to have doctors aid her to end her own life. She was dying of a rare form of facial cancer that caused her agonising pain and had cost her her sense of smell and taste before making her blind. She was unable to take morphine because of its side-effects and was facing a slow and terrible death.

Her plight made front pages in France, and now internationally, partly because the cancer was so very disfiguring (I will not post a picture of her final condition here, as I think she would probably not wish to be remembered this way). The disfigurement made her pain palpably obvious, and in a public plea to Nicolas Sarkozy, she said: "An animal would not be allowed to endure what I have to endure."

If Sebire had lived in Holland or Belgium, the medical profession would have helped her to die painlessly (a great fear for would-be suicides is suffering while dying) but in France, as in many countries, this is not permitted. Anyone assisting the suicide becomes implicated as a murderer. Therefore the suicide is left to slit their wrists or take their poison in whatever way they think is best and must hope to not botch it up in the process.

For myself, as an atheist, it brings home once again how even in country as thankfully secular as France, the church still has the nation by the balls. This concern to maintain life at all costs stems from the Christian idea that our lives are not our own, but belong to God, and therefore are not ours to destroy - a ridiculously outmoded idea if ever there was one. Not all life is sacred. Sometimes life is a godawful miserable mess.

The real issue is that doctors required a legal right to kill this patient that was not forthcoming. Why exactly do governments get quite so squeamish about this? Doctors, on the quiet, kill their patients all the time by gently upping the dose of painkillers. And they turn a blind eye to those nursing dying people at home, along the lines of: "This dose will relieve the pain, but this dose will end the pain," leaving it up to the carer and the patient to decide when and how to administer that dose. In the UK, it's now acknowledged that King George V was softly sent on his way by his doctors - something which would have been denied vehemently at the time.

It is time that the rest of Europe got into line with Holland and Belgium - or at least Switzerland, where doctors may prepare a fatal dose but the patient must administer it. Regulation, checks and balances are all there to prevent misuse of the privilege, and the number of patients who die this way is very small indeed. Euthanasia, like abortion, exacts its own terrible price upon a family and people do not undertake it lightly. But it is a choice that, as rational adults, they should be allowed to undertake.

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