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Mother gives son gift of death

By Associated Press
Published September 27, 2003

PARIS - Unable to move, speak or see, Vincent Humbert planned his death with his mother's help, mounting a media campaign to publicize it but not revealing the date.

Humbert, 22, died Friday morning, two days after Marie Humbert allegedly injected her son with barbiturates during a hospital visit. His death revived a debate in France over euthanasia.

Assisted suicide is outlawed in France but is permitted under certain circumstances in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is fully legal in Switzerland, where there are associations that help terminally ill patients kill themselves.

Humbert's mother said she wanted to give her son the gift of "death, after having given him life." She was detained by police for questioning Wednesday as her son slipped into a coma.

Breaking with a tradition of medical discretion, doctors said Friday that they had decided to limit "active treatment" of the young patient.

He died hours later.

Vincent Humbert was severely disabled in an auto accident in 2000 and spent three years at a hospital in the Normandy town of Berck-sur-Mer, the first nine months in a coma.

Only the thumb of his left hand was mobile, and he used it to communicate through an arduous system of applying pressure in response to letters of the alphabet.

Over time, he decided he did not want to go on living.

In November 2002, Humbert beseeched President Jacques Chirac to accord him the right to die. Chirac wrote and telephoned him in the hospital but explained he could not comply. Humbert mounted a death plan with his mother and painstakingly wrote a book explaining his case.

His mother allegedly executed the plan to end her son's life on the third anniversary of his accident and the release day of the book, Je vous demande le droit de mourir, or I Ask You for the Right to Die.

Days before, she told newspapers that she and her son had "a plan."

"I'm really happy, happy that my brother is finally free," said younger brother Laurent Humbert on LCI television. "It's an enormous relief."

Yet Vincent Humbert's death puts the political establishment face-to-face with the question of whether to legalize euthanasia.

"This debate is not closed, and we must resume it without prejudices," Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei said.

The word euthanasia is not mentioned in French law. It comes under various headings, from "voluntary homicide" to "murder" or "failure to assist a person in danger."

Marie Humbert risks being placed under investigation in her son's death in one of these categories.

However, Justice Minister Dominique Perben asked the prosecutor's office to "apply the law with the greatest humanity to take into account the suffering of the mother and the young man."

In an unusual move, two lawmakers representing France's main political rivals, the governing Union for a Popular Movement and the Socialist Party, said a change in the law was necessary.

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