France

French advocate for euthanasia sought a ‘dignified death’ in Switzerland

When Nicole Boucheton’s terminal cancer reached its final stages, she made the decision to uproot her life – and her final days – and move to Switzerland.

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Boucheton, who had been the vice president of a French organisation for two years, admitted that it required a lot of money for the accommodation, travel and organisation. But, the move punctuated another long-term battle of hers: the right to legal euthanasia in France.

The pro-euthanasia organisation Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD), where she worked, said on Friday that Bucheton, who past away last Thursday, had written in a posthumously released text that she was “forced into exile in Switzerland to die in dignity.”

“I am suffering from cancer of the rectum,” Bucheton wrote. “Upon diagnosis, the only curative treatment was chemotherapy, tomotherapy and a colostomy. I refused a mutilating surgery that would condemn me to a degraded life that I judge as unacceptable.”

Boucheton said her decision to go into exile and seek out the help of a Swiss organisation rested in the inability of President François Hollande to push forward more comprehensive legislation allowing for a patient's right to euthanasia.

This struggle has struck a sensitive chord in France with several high-profile cases raising complex ethical questions around end-of-life issues.

French emergency physician Nicolas Bonnmaison was acquitted earlier this summer – but faces an appeal by prosecutors – in the French south-western city of Pau after having secretly administered lethal doses of sedatives to seven terminally ill patients in his care.

The case of Vincent Lambert, who has been in a vegetative state since a car crash six years ago, has fuelled the debate even more. His parents, Roman Catholics who posit his condition could improve, have won court injunctions to keep him alive while doctors and the city of Reims have twice removed his feeding tubes.

Adding to the complexity of the case, France’s highest administrative court –the Conseil d’ État –found that Lambert could be allowed to die, however, his parents have taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The furore over whether doctors should have the discretion to end one’s life has also entered the realm of politics. In 2012, Hollande made it a campaign pledge to decriminalise voluntary euthanasia but has been unable to bring it to fruition.

While he backed away from his promise, Hollande appointed a national ethics commission to explore the morality and legality of end of life.

Part of the problem is that many conservative Catholic groups in France shifted their attention to the debate on euthanasia after seeing the same-sex marriage act pass in May 2013, which they fervently sought to quash.

However, different opinion polls have seen between 56% and 92% of French people believe the government should legalise assisted suicide.

In addition to Switzerland, euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In France, the 2005 “Leonetti” law allows for passive euthanasia insofar as withdrawing or holding back extreme treatment necessary to maintaining life.

However, Boucheton believed this law stopped short in giving people suffering from an incurable or terminal condition their right to end their lives in dignity.

“Through her wishes to publicize the conditions of her death by assisted suicide in Switzerland, Boucheton demonstrated how her personal struggle joined a collective one,” said president of the ADMD Jean-Luc Romero.

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