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Health minister backs mercy death pair

Published on 13/01/2004

PARIS, Jan 12 (AFP) - French Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei waded into a national euthnasia debate on Monday, rejecting the term "murder" to describe the death last September of a severely handicapped man two days after his mother put an overdose of sedatives in his intravenous drip.

Marie Humbert, the mother of the deceased Vincent Humbert, was to appear before a judge in Boulogne, northern France, for the first time on Tuesday, where she could be placed under formal investigation for “the premeditated administering of toxic substances”. If charged and found guilty she could be sentenced to five years in jail.

Vincent Humbert, a 22-year-old former fireman who was quadriplegic, blind and dumb, hit the headlines in late 2002 when he sent a letter to President Jacques Chirac pleading for a dispensation from France’s criminal ban on mercy killing.

His mother Marie, who waged a passionate campaign for her son’s right to die, gave him the overdose in hospital on September 24,2003 – three years to the day since the road accident that caused his injuries. Two days later, after the young man slipped into a coma, a doctor administered a lethal injection.

“The case has become a kind of caricature of our society’s response to human suffering. I do not accept the term murder,” Mattei said during a debate on the subject on the France 2 television channel.

“There is a prohibition which we have held since time immemorial ‘thou shalt not kill’,” the health minister added.

“For a long time this rule has been applied blindly… But things change with time. However the law has not changed and maintains strict penalties,” he added.

“I don’t think that many French people want them (Marie Humbert and the doctor involved Frederic Chaussoy) to be punished.”

Doctor Chaussoy administered the deadly injection to Vincent Humbert after his mother’s actions had placed the young man in a coma.

Chaussoy will appear before the Boulogne judge on Wednesday, and could be placed under judicial examination – the precursor to a formal charge – for “premeditated poisoning”, a crime which carries a possible life term in prison.

While discounting any guilt on Marie Humbert’s part, the doctor has also defended his own actions.

Mattei said he opposed the use of intensive treatment to keep such patients alive:

“When a sick person of sound mind asks to be allowed to end their life because they have decided to go, and someone helps them to do so with dignity, I think that we are not in the area traditionally known as euthanasia,” the health minister said.

Marie Humbert, said on France 2 that she had “tried everything to remain within the law, but the law is badly made”.


                                Subject: France news