31 August 2011

Legalize euthanasia?

Showed compassion
Mikhail Alekseev, MednovostiThe case of the French doctor Nicolas Bonnemaison, accused of administering a lethal combination of drugs to terminally ill patients, has taken an unexpected turn.

The doctor, who is actually accused of murder and does not deny the acts incriminated to him, has become a hero for a significant part of the French. Bonmaison was defended by his colleagues, a petition in support of the doctor was signed by more than 40 thousand people. Supporters of the doctor talk about the need for a new law on euthanasia. According to the latest opinion poll, this opinion is shared by the overwhelming majority of French residents.

ConsequenceCharges against Nicolas Bonmaison, a doctor of the department of short-term hospitalization of the Department of Emergency Care at the Cote Basque Medical Center in Bayonne, were filed in mid-August.

The attention of law enforcement agencies to the activities of the medical worker was attracted by nurses who took care of seriously ill patients. Among other patients, the Bonmaison department received people with incurable diseases, who were then redirected to the palliative care department. The nurses found the unexpected deaths of four patients suspicious: all of them were examined by Bonmaison shortly before their death, in one of these cases a syringe was seen in the doctor's hands. The administration of the medical center was informed about these suspicions, and that, in turn, immediately appealed to the prosecutor's office.

Bonmaison did not deny anything. At the first interrogation, he stated that he used a combination of potent drugs (muscle relaxant plus sleeping pills) to accelerate the onset of death of patients. The doctor explained his actions with compassion and a desire to stop the suffering of the dying. Bonmaison also said that in one way or another he informed relatives of patients about his actions. According to the results of the preliminary investigation, the doctor was charged with poisoning four people who were in a deliberately helpless state. The maximum penalty for such a crime is life imprisonment.

Despite the severity of the charges, the judge found it possible to leave the doctor at large, limiting himself to suspending him from work and banning him from communicating with the families of patients. After that, Bonmaison did not make loud statements and refrained from communicating with the press. However, Bonmaison's lawyer, Arnaud Dupin, willingly communicates with journalists. From the very beginning, Dupin chose an unusual defense tactic. In particular, in one of the interviews, the lawyer suggested that his client had committed significantly more euthanasia than the investigation incriminates him. However, according to Dupin's version, the relatives of the patients knew about the doctor's actions and approved of them. "Relatives are asking: "do something." In such cases, the doctor, if he is humane, knows what to do to bring the end closer and alleviate the sufferings of the patient," he said.

The families of the deceased patients did not contact the law enforcement agencies. The prosecutor's office admits that none of the victims' relatives contacted the investigation even after reports of a high-profile case appeared in the media. It can be assumed that Bonmaison really acted with the knowledge of the relatives of the dying. Nevertheless, these people are unlikely to be able to speak in court in his defense, since they themselves face criminal liability for complicity in a crime.

ColleaguesAccording to Dupin, some of Nicolas Bonmaison's employees were also aware of his activities.

The administration of the Bayonne Medical Center rejected this assumption with indignation. The accused himself also claims that he acted alone. Nevertheless, colleagues did not leave Bonmaison alone with the investigation.

On August 16, hospital staff held a rally in defense of Bonmaison, which was attended by more than three hundred people. "We express our unconditional support to Dr. Nicolas Bonmaison, whose actions as a doctor have always been honest, humane and reasonable. Thanks to these qualities, which should be inherent in every medical worker, he acted for the benefit of patients, relieving them of unnecessary suffering and allowing them to end their lives with dignity," the petition compiled at the rally says. The document quotes the words of a French doctor's oath approved in 1996: "I will do everything necessary to alleviate suffering. I will not unnecessarily prolong the agony."

The petition posted on the Internet was signed by more than 40 thousand people. Bonmaison supporters have also created a Facebook community, which now has about 20 thousand members.

In the community, you can find numerous thanks from people who personally knew Bonmaison, including from relatives of patients who died in the Bayonne hospital. The overwhelming majority of commentators simply express admiration for the courage of the doctor who went to break the law out of compassion for the sick and their families.

Opponents of euthanasia are also participating in the discussion, in particular believers who, together with the Roman Catholic Church, consider such a practice to be unacceptable in principle. However, they also tend to avoid personal attacks against Bonmaison and prefer not to discuss the motives of his actions. Meanwhile, there is something to find fault with in the doctor's biography. Le Monde journalists found out that some time ago Bonmaison had to take a long vacation to undergo a course of psychotherapy – either due to depression after the death of his father, or because of overwork at work. But there were few people willing to explain what happened by insanity, vicious inclinations or a nervous breakdown. The level of trust in health workers in France, which boasts one of the best health systems in the world, is extremely high, so stories about maniacs in white coats are unpopular here.

SocietyThere is no doubt that there is a corpus delicti in Bonmaison's actions.

The Leonetti Law, adopted in France in 2005, allows for so–called passive euthanasia - the termination of measures aimed at maintaining the lives of patients if they suffer from incurable diseases. Such decisions are made by a consultation of doctors, if there is a corresponding written expression of the patient's will. None of these requirements were met by Bonmaison. In addition, doctors in France are still prohibited from actions directly leading to the termination of the patient's life.

Soon after the Leonetti Law came into force, it turned out that it does not work in all possible situations. This was clearly shown by the story of the Frenchwoman Chantal Sebir, who unsuccessfully sought euthanasia in court in 2007 and eventually committed suicide. In recent years, the number of Frenchmen who consider the current legislation insufficient has increased significantly.

A sociological survey timed to the Bonmaison case showed that currently about 49 percent of adult residents of France are supporters of the unconditional legalization of active euthanasia, another 45 percent consider such a measure possible if certain conditions are met. Compared with similar data at the end of last year, the number of unconditional supporters of euthanasia increased by 13 percent, and representatives of older age groups support this measure more than young people.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru31.08.2011

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