PARIS — One French court acquitted a doctor of poisoning seven terminally ill patients, while another ordered physicians to suspend treatment for a comatose man, while Britain's top court said the country's ban on assisted suicide may be incompatible with human rights. These decisions of the past few days are fueling the arguments of Europeans who say the duty of doctors is to end the suffering of those beyond treatment.
But emotions run high on all sides of the issue, as is shown by the case of the comatose Frenchman, Vincent Lambert. Hours after the French court sided with his wife in ordering an end to treatment, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the move at the request of his parents.
The prosecution in France of Dr. Nicolas Bonnemaison was unusual as well. He never denied giving seven terminally ill patients lethal injections, and some of their families testified on his behalf.
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg for patients whose suffering is "unbearable." France's president has said he wants to make it easier for some terminally ill patients to request medical help to end their lives in the majority-Catholic country.
Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain, although cases are rarely prosecuted. Wednesday's ruling from the British Supreme Court was unexpectedly far-reaching. Although it dismissed the appeal of two severely disabled men who argued that the law should be changed to allow doctors to legally kill them, a majority of judges suggested that Parliament change the law to be in line with human rights guarantees.