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Court Cases

French court frees doctor, fueling euthanasia debate

A French court has acquitted a doctor accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients at the end of an emotional trial. The decision paves the way for the French government to draft a legal framework for euthanasia.

A doctor whose trial gripped France was "acquitted of all charges against him" on Wednesday by a court in the southwestern city of Pau.

Nicolas Bonnemaison (pictured center) had faced life in prison but was freed after some of deceased patient's families testified on his behalf. Bonnemaison did not deny having given the lethal injections to terminally ill patients.

The 53-year-old was accused of "poisoning particularly vulnerable people" - five women and two men who died between March 2010 and July 2011 after they were admitted to a hospital in the southwestern city of Bayonne. The trial began on June 11, and included intense evidence related to the agony that the patients were said to have suffered and the scope of compassion medical staff are allowed to show.

"No one here will go home unscathed after what was said here," prosecutor Marc Mariee said in a final statement.

French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said the court's decision meant the ruling Socialists had "a responsibility to develop the legislative framework."

Paris urged to rethink

Following a related ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights told France to maintain life support for a man who spent nearly six years in a coma, in a case that divided the patient's family.

French judges had ruled doctors should be allowed to end medical support for 38-year-old Vincent Lambert, who has been kept artificially alive since a motorbike crash in September 2008.

A law passed in France in 2005 legalizes passive euthanasia, where death is brought about by the withholding and withdrawing of vital treatment for a critically ill patient. Assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland, allows medics to provide lethal substances to patients, who would themselves carry out the act of administering them.

Euthanasia allows doctors go further by administering the substances themselves. Rules about the right to die vary significantly across Europe. Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, but only for patients whose suffering is "unbearable."

rc/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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