THE DEBATE on euthanasia in France has been reignited after a hospital doctor was charged with helping four elderly patients die.
Nicolas Bonnemaison, who worked in the accident and emergency ward at Bayonne hospital, admitted in court on Friday that he had administered lethal doses to ease patients' suffering.
Nurses raised concerns to their management earlier this month after a number of suspicious deaths in the A&E ward in the past five months. The health ministry has launched its own investigation.
Assisted suicide is illegal in France, unlike the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The 50-year-old doctor was freed on probation and could face life in prison.
The man's lawyer, Arnaud Dupin, said the doctor had discussed his actions with the relatives of patients and with colleagues. None of the families has so far complained to police.
A petition backing the doctor has gathered 11,000 signatures, and colleagues will demonstrate outside the hospital this afternoon in his support.
A law that would have legalised assisted suicide in France was examined by senators earlier this year and had cross-party support, but was thrown out.
The 2005 Loi Leonetti governs end-of-life issues and gives patients the right to refuse further medical treatment for incurable illnesses, but does not permit euthanasia.
Libération newspaper argued in an editorial yesterday that euthanasia was more than a question of dignity - it was about individual freedom.