A French woman, suffering from a rare cancer, whose request to be allowed to die by euthanasia was turned down by a French court, was found dead today in her apartment in eastern France, Dijon's prosecutor announced.
Chantal Sébire, 52, a teacher and mother of three, suffered from esthesioneuroblastoma, an incurable tumor attacking her nose and sinuses. It left her disfigured, blind, without the sense of smell or taste and in terrible pain.
Only about 1,000 cases of the rare cancer Sébire suffered from have been reported worldwide in the last 20 years.
"Ms. Sébire was pronounced dead at 7:30 p.m. local time. The cause of death is unknown. We're going to take samples and run some tests and we should know more by Thursday," Dijon public prosecutor Jean-Pierre Allachi said in front of Sébire's apartment in Plombières-les-Dijon.
Before the discovery of Sebire's death today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in Paris with her doctor, Emmanuel Debost.
Sébire had written Sarkozy a couple of weeks ago, pleading for his help to allow her to die with dignity. In response, Sarkozy said he would ask a group of experts for a new opinion on her condition.
Following the meeting today, during which Sébire's condition was discussed with a team of experts, Sarkozy released a statement saying he was "particularly touched by the suffering of Ms. Sébire and of her family, as well as by the call for help he had received."
The French prime minister's office also asked Jean Leonetti, the French lawmaker who put together the 2005 law widely known as "passive euthanasia" — which allows doctors to withhold treatment with a terminally ill patient's consent in certain circumstances — to evaluate the law to eventually remedy its weaknesses.
In a rare move, two government members pleaded today in favor of active euthanasia in Sebire's case.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a doctor, asked for an exception to allow her not to commit suicide, "in a sort of secret that would have made everybody suffer, in particular her family."
Nadine Morano, who was just named secretary of state for family, said she was in favor of euthanasia.
Active euthanasia, the act of taking steps to facilitate a person's death, is illegal in France.
In a request she filed in court in the eastern city of Dijon, Sébire 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."
But the 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.
Sébire's lawyer Gilles Antonowicz denounced the decision as "total hypocrisy" and called on Sarkozy to change the law.
"Our law is inhuman. The law must be changed because we see that people are left on the side of the road," Antonowicz said at a news conference Monday in Paris. Following the court's decision, he spoke briefly with his client, who, he said, was "extremely tired."
Sébire's case received widespread news coverage and renewed the euthanasia debate in France.
Many think the 2005 law is insufficient. Last year, more that 2,000 doctors and nurses signed a petition saying they had helped patients to die with dignity, asserting that the law "is still repressive and unfair as ever as it is not in sync with medical reality."