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Mercy killings doctor cleared

Trial of hospital doctor accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients reignites euthanasia debate

DOCTOR Nicolas Bonnemaison, who was accused of killing seven terminally ill patients at a hospital in Bayonne, has been cleared of all charges.

Cheers rang round the courtroom yesterday when, after three hours of deliberation, the jury at the Court of Assizes in Pau decided that Dr Bonnemaison had acted out of “compassion” and found him not guilty.

The 53-year-old had faced a lengthy prison term. He had earlier admitted that he had administered lethal doses to ease patients' suffering.

His lawyer, Benoit Ducos-Ader described the verdict as “huge”.

The case has reignited the euthanasia debate in France, with a survey published in Le Parisien finding that nine out of 10 people in the country are in favour of legalising it.

During the trial, Dr Bonnemaison’s lawyer urged the jurors to “accelerate the history” of legislation, and the doctor himself said while in the dock that it, “is part of the duty of the physician to accompany patients through to the end.”

After the verdicts, government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said: "This case reinforces the need to develop our legislative framework."

Euthanasia is legal in Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, but not in France.

President François Hollande promised to examine the case for legalising it during and shortly after his election campaign in 2012.

The court’s ruling follows European Court of Human Rights’ intervention in the case of Vincent Lambert, who has been in a vegetative state for six years following a motorcycle accident.

The Conseil d’Etat had ordered an end to Mr Lambert’s treatment, citing a 2005 law that allows doctors to withdraw care in cases where it is deemed that life is being "artificially" prolonged through "unnecessary or disproportionate treatment".

But the European Court ordered a stay following an appeal by members of Mr Lambert’s family.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Supreme Court yesterday upheld the ban on assisted suicide, but judges ruled that current law is incompatible with human rights legislation, opening the door to further debate.

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