“Mercy killings” trial begins

Euthanasia debate back on agenda in France as doctor goes on trial accused of killing seven terminally ill patients

A DOCTOR accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients at a hospital in Bayonne has spoken of his “passion” for medicine on the first day of his trial.

Nicolas Bonnemaison was greeted with applause and encouragement as he arrived at court in Pau with his wife.

According to one of his lawyers, the 53 year old came “justify his actions because he did not blush, he always acted as a doctor”.

He faces life in prison if he is found guilty of “poisoning particularly vulnerable people” - five women and two men who died between March 2010 and July 2011 soon after they were admitted to the hospital where he worked in the Basque Country city.

He is accused of having given powerful drugs to the patients without asking other doctors' advice.

As reported, the case came to light in August 2011 after the doctor was reported to bosses by nurses in hospital’s emergency department, who said they found his behaviour suspicious.
He admitted at the time that he had given patients lethal doses of drugs to ease their suffering.

He has already been struck off because of the allegations, his lawyer said.

The trial has reignited the debate surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide in France.

At the time, then-Prime Minister François Fillon said he was against legalising so-called “mercy killings”.

In comments made on television as the trial began, the widow of one the patients said she had asked Bonnemaison to help her husband die, and that what the doctor did was 'good'.

Patricia Dhooge, who will be giving evidence for the defence, told France Television “it would hurt me very much if they gave him any kind of punishment”.

She added: “I'm having a lot of trouble understanding this trial. I want to tell the court, ‘We were there. We agreed’.”

Meanwhile, a petition supporting the defendant has been signed by 60,000 people.

Euthanasia is illegal in France, but President François Hollande promised to examine the case for legalising euthanasia during and shortly after his election campaign in 2012.

In 2005 France legalised “passive euthanasia”, where a person causes death by withholding or withdrawing treatment necessary to keep a person alive.

Late last year, an official panel recommended legalising assisted suicide, which allows a doctor to provide a patient with everything they need to end their life.