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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Denial of active euthanasia in France sparks global debate

On March 19, 2008, 52-year old French schoolteacher, Chantal Sébire, was found dead in her home in Dijon, France. According to L’Express, a French weekly magazine equivalent to the American Time magazine, it is still unknown whether Sébire died naturally or had committed suicide, but she did “suffer from a sickness that was potentially deadly.”

Sébire has been suffering from esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare, incurable cancer, where a tumor attacked her nose and sinuses, leaving her disfigured, blind, unable to taste or smell, and in terrible pain.

Two days earlier, Sébire lost a case in which she requested the right to die by means of active euthanasia.

“The fact that she can’t taste or smell is something that is very grave especially for French people,” said senior Anastasia Smith, a French major, who studied in Montpellier, France in the spring of 2007. “For them life isn’t about working or studying hard. It’s enjoying yourself, eating good food and relishing your senses.”

ABC News reported that Sébire filed a request in a court of Dijon and cited “intense and permanent suffering” and the “incurable character of the disease she is suffering from” as reasons for “her refusal to have to support the irreversible degradation of her state.”

L’Express reported that “Madame Sébire was vehemently hostile . She forcefully wished for active euthanasia for many weeks but justice conformed to legislation with vigor and refused her last Monday.”

According to ABC News, the French court ruled that “Sébire could not have a doctor help her die because it would breach medical ethics and French law, under which assisted suicide is a crime.”

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ABC News reported that Sébire’s lawyer, Gilles Antonowicz condemned the decision as “total hypocrisy” and wrote to President Nicolas Sarkozy to legalize active euthanasia.

“Our law is inhuman. The law must be changed because we see that people are left on the side of the road,” said Antonowicz at a news conference in Paris, after the court declined Sébire’s request.

Assistant Professor of Spanish, Alfonso Mancheno, includes a section about euthanasia in Spain in his 350 Spanish course.

“To me, euthanasia is not a matter of religion,” Mancheno said. “I see it as a humanitarian matter. There are very few cases where active euthanasia is necessary to avoid inhumane pain.”

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Robert Duncan, agrees and said that at times euthanasia is a more humane option.

“My father died of leukemia and he lived years undergoing experimental treatments,” Duncan said. “It’s just sad to force people to continue living where there is not hope for them to be cured.”

Mancheno said that he agrees with the court’s decision to deny Sébire’s request for assisted euthanasia, because she was able to do it herself, as opposed to others like Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who was paralyzed from the neck down and did not have the ability of movement.

However, senior Elizabeth Mehaffey, a French major, who lived in Paris and the city of Tours in the fall of 2007 said, “It is really irresponsible that the court refused her request. Since (Sébire) was able to take matters into her own hands, there are many more complications that could come with that. The doctor could have done it in a clinical manner.”

Like France, Spain, is also largely Catholic, which morally stood in the way of Sampedro and his lawyer, who fought a 30-year campaign in Europe to legalize active euthanasia.

The fact that there is a very strict separation of church and state in France, while active euthanasia remains unauthorized, sparked some controversy and a worldwide debate about assisted suicide.

Smith said that the word in French for the separation of church and state is “la’cité,” or a “laique” system, “which means secular, without influence of religion.”

According to French newspaper, Le Monde, Sébire’s doctor said, “Euthanasia is a therapy and I am astonished that a huge ‘laique’ country like France wouldn’t recognize it as such.”

“It is necessary to have a separation of church and state especially in a democracy because when religion is involved, one group would be able to impose its beliefs on others,” Duncan said. “The Catholic culture of the Parliament would be an unfair imposition of the state’s beliefs on the people.”

Mehaffey said that even though many French people are not very religious, most still culturally identify as Catholic when they think about their traditions and history.

“Most of the people I met in France did not consider themselves actively religious,” said Mehaffey, “but they considered themselves Catholic. Underlying Catholic beliefs about life would play into the court’s decision against active euthanasia. It would be unnatural especially because it goes against tradition.”

Smith said that the lines between culture and religion intersect in French policy-making.

“The church is there but this idea of secularism and la’cité is still really strong in policy-making decisions. It’s at the forefront in France,” said Smith, “But, since most people tend to be Catholic by culture, the idea of ‘la’cité’ continues to create a paradox in all corners of French politics.

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