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November 27, 2013

©The Daily Telegraph

An elderly French couple has ignited a debate about assisted suicide after being found dead in a Paris hotel holding hands and leaving behind a note criticising the country for not allowing them to end their days “serenely”.
Friends and family of Bernard and Georgette Cazes, both 86, said there was no doubt the pair were still very much in love after more than 60 years of marriage; and in the name of that loving unity, they decided to end their lives together at a time and place of their choosing.
On Friday last week, staff at the historic Hotel Lutetia – a haunt of Pablo Picasso and Samuel Beckett – walked in with a breakfast tray to find the pair hand in hand on their bed with plastic bags over their faces.
In a letter found by hotel staff, Georgette expressed her anger at not being able to enjoy a more dignified, comfortable departure.
“The law forbids access to any lethal pills that would enable a soft death,” the typed note said. “Should my freedom be only limited by that of others? Who has the right to hinder a person with nobody in their charge, who is up to date with their taxes, having worked all these years and then as a volunteer in the social services [to end their life]? Who has the right to force them to commit cruel practices when they want to leave this life serenely?”
In the letter, addressed to the Paris prosecutor, Georgette filed a complaint for “non respect of freedom”. She authorised her children to file the complaint in her name.
Speaking to Le Parisien yesterday, the couple’s son, whose name was not given, said his parents “feared separation and dependency much more than death”.
They had made up their minds “decades ago” to commit suicide together when they felt the time was right, he said.
They had been active until recently. Bernard was an eminent economist-philosopher and author of a series of books, including The History of Futures, which charted how the future was predicted throughout the ages. Georgette was an author and classics teacher, and later a volunteer social worker.
Neither family nor friends provided any specific reasons why the two had decided to die at this time or whether either was in chronic pain or suffering from a terminal illness.
“They had such dynamism, such strong willpower,” one neighbour in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux said.
“They loved each other, you could tell that. One can understand how to go on living without each other would have seemed impossible,” said another.
They had lived, said their neighbour Jeannine, as they died: “Always arm in arm.”
Debate over euthanasia has been impassioned after a number of high-profile cases. In France, the issue came to the fore last year when Amour , Michael Haneke’s powerful film about love and euthanasia, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
François Hollande, France’s president, also issued an electoral promise to ensure a “dignified end of life”.
A 2005 law authorises doctors to administer pain-killing drugs at levels they know will, as a secondary effect, shorten a patient’s life.
In July, France’s medical ethics council advised against legalising euthanasia. It nevertheless called for a “citizen’s jury” to debate the matter.
ederly couple

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