February 27, 2024

French doctor convicted of euthanasia death

Trial of Nicolas Bonnemaison sparks controversy

Nicolas Bonnemaison with his wife on October 24  

A 54-year-old doctor has been deregistered and convicted of killing a patient after a high-profile trial which has thrown petrol onto France’s smouldering debate over euthanasia.

Nicholas Bonnemaison was charged with the deaths of seven elderly patients in 2010 and 2011 in the southwestern city of Bayonne. He was acquitted on all counts in his first trial, but the prosecutors appealed the jury’s decision. This week he was found guilty, but only of one death, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence.

“Medicine is my life, my patients are my life and I miss them,” he told the court before the jury retired. “I acted as a doctor and I say this to you with a great deal of sincerity,” he added.

The chief prosecutor, Olivier Tcherkessof, said that Bonnemaison was “not a killer, not a poisoner in the common sense of the terms,” but said he had “deliberately caused the death” of patients.

The conviction was controversial. Many of the relatives of the dead patients supported Bonnemaison. Bernard Kouchner, the co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and a former minister, visited Bonnemaison to encourage him and lend him some of his moral authority – as did Jean-Claude Ameisen, president of the national ethics committee and Jean Leonetti, the architect of France’s end-of-life legislation.

But the evidence of an intention to kill was too strong, as the prosecutor pointed out in his concluding remarks. Bonnemaison had given curare, a poison, to at least one patient. He failed to consult colleagues about his medical decisions. He carried a syringe around in his pocket, ignoring basic rules of hygiene, presumably because his patient was not going to survive. And he bet a chocolate cake that one of his patients would not survive the afternoon. He may have acted in good faith, the prosecutor said. But it was according to his own logic and a feeling of medical omnipotence. 

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