Son's Wish to Die, and Mother's Help,
Stir French Debate
September 27, 2003
By CRAIG S. SMITH
PARIS, Sept. 26 - "I Ask the Right to
Die," written by
Vincent Humbert, a 22-year-old French paraplegic, hit
bookstores here on Thursday. Today he died, two days
his mother put an overdose of sedatives into his
She acted on the third anniversary of
the car accident that
left him paralyzed, mute and blind.
His death and his book calling for
the legalization of
euthanasia have transfixed the nation and drawn the
over assisted suicide out of hospital wards and into
Assisted suicide is outlawed in
France but is permitted
under certain circumstances in the Netherlands and
It is fully legal in Switzerland, where there are
associations that help terminally ill patients kill
Radio call-in programs, television
talk shows and the
opinion pages of the country's newspapers have
discussion of Mr. Humbert's death and what
any, his mother, Marie Humbert, should receive.
Ms. Humbert, 48, who had campaigned
for the right to end
her son's life, was taken into custody by the police
suspicion of attempted murder late Wednesday but was
released on Thursday and allowed to see her son
died. She was subsequently hospitalized at an
location. Her current whereabouts is unknown.
Libération, the country's largest
left-wing daily, praised
Ms. Humbert in an editorial headlined, "Let us end
hypocrisy." An editorial in Le Monde, France's
newspaper, called only for a national debate but
out that the country's national ethics consulting
recommended in January 2000 that a law be passed
euthanasia in exceptional cases.
So far, the country's judicial system
is dealing gently
with Ms. Humbert, who won enormous public sympathy in
campaign for euthanasia.
Justice Minister Dominique Perben
asked prosecutors in a
statement today "to act with the greatest humanity in
applying the law, taking into account the suffering
mother and the young man." The lead prosecutor in the
told reporters that an official inquiry into Mr.
death would be undertaken "in due time."
Mr. Humbert's plight captured
national attention last
December after he wrote a direct appeal to France's
president, Jacques Chirac, asking for the legal right
end his own life. Mr. Chirac wrote back that he could
grant the request "because the president of the
doesn't have that right, but I understand your
and deep despair in facing the living conditions that
Mr. Humbert then set about writing
his book from his bed at
the same hospital in the northern port of
where Jean-Dominique Bauby, all but incapacitated by
stroke, wrote his haunting memoir, <object.title
class="Movie" idsrc="nyt_ttl" value="158906">"The
Bell and the Butterfly."</object.title> Mr. Bauby
1997, two days after his book was published.
Mr. Humbert wrote his book with the
help of a journalist,
Frédéric Veille, by pressing with his thumb and
head to spell out words as Mr. Veille read repeatedly
through the alphabet.
In "I Ask the Right to Die," Mr.
Humbert recounts with
heartbreaking bitterness how his life as a healthy,
young fireman ended when his car met an oncoming
truck on a
narrow country road. After enduring months of ebbing
that he would recover any of his lost faculties - he
lost his senses of taste and smell - he decided he
to die and with his mother began the campaign.
Mr. Humbert had argued to be allowed
to end his life
legally in France because he was unable to afford the
of transport abroad, even if it could have been
"Then, so that you understand me
better, so that the debate
about euthanasia finally reaches another level, so
this word and this act are no longer a taboo subject,
that we no longer let live lucid people like me who
put an end to their own suffering, I wanted to write
book that I will never read," he wrote.
In the book, which was the
second-best-selling title on
France's Amazon.com Web site this morning, Mr.
described asking his mother to kill him and her
do so. As the third anniversary of his Sept. 24
approached, his mother signaled her intention to kill
son in media interviews.
Ms. Humbert injected sedatives into
her son's intravenous
drip late Wednesday, sending him into a coma. The
then pleaded with doctors to let him die. Mr. Humbert
today after doctors abandoned efforts to keep him
saying in a statement that they had made their
and difficult decision in complete independence."
Mr. Humbert's book ends with a plea
to readers to empathize
with his mother and leave her in peace. "What she has
for me is surely the most beautiful proof of love in
world," he wrote.