French pensioners in hospital ‘suicide pact’

In what was an apparent suicide pact, an 84-year-old man entered the hospital ward of his 82-year-old terminally ill wife and shot her before turning the gun on himself. The tragedy has reignited France’s debate on assisted suicide.

French pensioners in hospital 'suicide pact'
The tragedy has reignited France's heated debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia. File photo: Jazz Beaunola/flickr

The horrific incident played out at the Ambroisé-Paré hospital in the western Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt and comes just days before Socialist MP Alain Claeys is due to publish a bill on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In a statement, the hospital said the elderly woman was suffering from terminal cancer and that the couple – only two weeks earlier – had tried to commit joint suicide by taking an overdose, but that that attempt had failed. Both were admitted to hospital over the incident.

“The husband had been released (from hospital) a few days ago, but the wife, who was being treated for an advance stage cancer, remained hospitalised.”

“The husband (then) arrived with a shotgun and turned it on himself after having killed his wife, probably in her sleep,” the hospital said.

The couple did not appear to have left a suicide note behind.

The incident is reminiscent of a similar tragic tale that occurred in France last year when an elderly French couple stirred emotion by checking into the luxurious Lutetia Hotel in Paris before taking their own lives together.

The couple, both aged 86, left two suicide notes, one of which contained a scathing attack on France’s prohibition of euthanasia.

“By what right can a person be forced into a cruel [situation], when they wish to end their life peacefully?” asked the letter.

In France doctors are currently forbidden to deliberately withhold treatment or nutrition that would prolong a life, or to administer drugs with the primary effect of ending a patient’s life (“active euthanasia”).

Since 2005, however, it is legal for doctors to administer pain-killing medication at a level they know will, as a secondary effect, shorten a patient’s life.

The new bill is expected to propose certain measures with which terminally ill patients will have the right to end their lives, such as death through sedation.

“This drama raises the question of introducing concrete measures when it comes to assisted suicide,” Claeys said.

by Louise Nordstrom

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