Mar. 17, 2008

Chantal Sébire

"An animal would not be allowed to endure what I have to endure."

If you're living in Europe, chances are you have heard about Chantal Sébire, recently. I'm well aware of the fact that euthanasia is a very difficult subject, dealing with both ethic issues and the doctor's code to save lives, but if you read about Chantal, it might make you think...

Chantal is a 52 year old mother of three and is suffering from a rare and uncurable disease (esthesioneuroblastoma) that has left her disfigured by facial tumors. I'm not going to post a picture of Chantal, but you can find her story here: The Daily Telegraph
I can't imagine that those pictures will leave anyone cold! They clearly show all her sufferings.

Those tumors that left her blind and robbed her senses of taste and smell, will also damage her brain over time and eventually kill her. Chemo and other forms of treatments did not work. Now, she appealed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to allow her to die by euthanasia.

All she wanted was go out and celebrate with her family, then go back home and die in dignity.
However, French law does not allow for euthanasia, so it came as no surprise that her wish was declined today.

Where does that leave Chantal? Well, there might be the opportunity of passive euthanasia- being hospitalized and put into an artificial coma without being fed until she dies. Chantal objected, this form was "neither dignified, humane, or respectful of me or my children."
Instead, Sebire's lawyer says she'll either appeal, if she feels the strength to fight on, or check into a Swiss facility specializing in assisted suicide.

I can't even imagine in what kind of pain she and her family have to be- having to deal with cancer and the fact that she will die, and fighting for a way to die in peace and with her dignity intact. Chantal and her family are in my thoughts and I hope they'll have the strength to keep on fighting- wherever that might lead them.


Kate said...

That breaks my heart.

When I worked in Medical Ethics this was an end-of-life care issue we discussed quite a bit. We had a guest lecturer at one point, Dr. Timothy Quill (?) who discussed the fine line between the illegality of PAS in most places and possible alternatives, particularly:

"Terminal sedation “integrates two legally accepted clinical practices: (1) sedation of the patient to unconsciousness or a level that ensures escape from intolerable suffering, and (2) withholding life-sustaining therapy including food and fluids.”3 The legal uncertainties regarding this practice occur in their combination."

I ended up knowing a man who had used information from Dr. Quill's books (I think it's Dr. Quill?) to help his family. He and his wife, who was in the end stages of ALS (also considering the well-being of their young child), implemented the option of withholding food and fluids. It was death with dignity, and not of needless, long-term suffering.

We also had a Division member who'd done quite a lot of research about the laws allowing PAS in Holland (I think it's Holland) and Oregon (I don't know where Oregon stands currently).

It's an issue we really need to stop sweeping under the carpet and discuss. My heart goes out to this woman and her family.

Kate of Le monde de fromage de Kate

Kate said...

Oh - I should add that done correctly, withholding food and fluids and be done in a painless and private way...

This is partly because when someone is suffering an end-stage disease, their systems are often shutting down one by one and an individual often doesn't want to eat. We often interpret this as cruel and painful, whereas sometimes it is MORE painful for the compromised body to try and digest food. It is not the same as a healthy person "starving to death."

Something to consider.

Kate from Le monde de fromage de Kate

Henrike said...

So true.

In addition, the Church is a huge factor in Europe (I guess it's probably the same in the US), with a lot of traditionalists and fundamentalists putting pressure on the families, saying that it's against God's will to perform any kind of PAS.