French Disfigured Woman Died After Taking Barbiturates Overdose: Prosecutor
A severely disfigured French woman, found dead this month after a court rejected her request for euthanasia, took a lethal overdose of barbiturates, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
Former schoolteacher Chantal Sebire, 52, asked for the right to die to alleviate the suffering caused by a rare and incurable tumour, which deformed her face, causing her to lose her eyesight and the senses of smell and taste.
Her body was found at her home in eastern France on March 19, two days after a high court decided current French law did not allow her doctor to prescribe her lethal drugs.
"We can say that Mrs Sebire did not die of natural causes, as shown by the autopsy, but from absorbing a lethal dose of barbiturate," prosecutor Jean-Pierre Alacchi told reporters in the eastern city of Dijon.
Post-mortem tests revealed "the presence in the blood of a toxic concentration of barbiturate, Pentobarbital... (at) three times the lethal level for this product," he said.
Pentobarbital is commonly used for animal euthanasia and can be legally prescribed for assisted human suicide in Switzerland, Belgium and the US state of Oregon.
Investigators were trying to establish how Sebire obtained the drug, which is not delivered by French pharmacies, to establish whether her death was a case of suicide or assisted suicide.
Chantal Sebire's lawyer Gilles Antonowicz said she "put an end to her own suffering, she delivered herself, but I do not want to talk of suicide, because that was not Mrs Sebire's intention."
Sebire's case prompted doctors, politicians and intellectuals to call for a national debate on a change to French law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia in exceptional cases.
In her request to the high court, Sebire had said she wanted to put an end to "atrocious suffering" and an irreversible worsening of her condition, called an esthesioneuroblastoma.
The mother-of-three had said she would not appeal the decision and that she would find life-terminating drugs through other means.
Before-and-after pictures of Sebire, along with her account of frightened children who ran away at the sight of her, attracted a strong outpouring of sympathy in France.
French legislation adopted in 2005 allows families to request that life-support equipment for a terminally-ill patient be switched off, but does not allow a doctor to take action to end a patient's life.
Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are the only European Union countries that currently allow active euthanasia.