- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A court in Versailles sentenced French nurse Christine Malevre to 10 years in prison Friday.

The sentence reflected public prosecutor Alain Junillon's recommendation against 33-year-old Malevre, indicted for having killed six seriously ill patients under her care between 1997 and 1998, at a suburban Paris hospital.

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The court did not hold her responsible for the death of a seventh patient, due to lack of evidence. But Malevre was banned from practicing nursing.

The nurse sat stony-faced as the verdict was read, but later began to cry.

There was no immediate reaction from Malevre's lawyer, or from the families of victims who originally brought the charges against her.

The Malevre saga has riveted the nation, since the nurse confessed in 1998 to ending the lives of more than two dozen ill and dying people under her care. At the time, she justified her actions as mercy killings. Malevre amended the statement a few months later, saying she had killed four dying patients, but only at their request.

Despite the conflicting accounts, the Malevre case rekindled arguments to legalize euthanasia in France. In the past two years, Netherlands and Belgium have legalized euthanasia under stringent conditions. Switzerland has legalized assisted suicide and several other European countries have dealt lightly regarding one or the other procedure.

Unlike assisted suicide, in which a person is given drugs or other means to kill himself, euthanasia requires a person — usually a medical practitioner — to end another person's life. Both practices are banned in France and euthanasia carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

The Malevre trial is one of only several recent incidents refueling the euthanasia debate in France.

In early January, a separate French court handed only a 2-year suspended prison sentence to Elie Bendayan for shooting his wife to death. Bendayan's wife suffered from Alzheimer's, and the former police officer described the killing as an act of love.

In December, the mother of former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin — and a pro-euthanasia activist — committed suicide.

Also in December, a 21-year-old man, who was blinded and paralyzed from a car accident, pleaded with President Jacques Chirac to be able to end his life legally.

A December poll also found 88 percent of French supported legalizing euthanasia, under certain conditions. But French Health Minister, Dr. Jean-Francois Mattei, is adamantly opposed to euthanasia, calling it "the wrong answer to questions of suffering, solitude and abandonment."

During the 2-week trial, Malevre was variously labeled a serial killer and a nurse with a gift and compassion in dealing with the sick.

Benoit Chabert, a lawyer representing the family of one of Malevre's patients, described the nurse with a "perverted" relationship with her patients and a "morbid fascination" with death.

But one of Malevre's nursing professors described her as a talented student, who may have been faced with a situation she couldn't handle.

Despite the Malevre verdict, pro-euthanasia activists argue the trial helped highlight the problem of clandestine mercy killings, which they argue occur regularly in French hospitals.

"It's exactly this type of action we are fighting against," said Edith Deyris, secretary general of the Paris-based Association for the Right to Die in Dignity, referring to the Malevre killings. "We want transparency. We want a realization and concerted action within hospitals — based on written demands of patients who want to die."

"In other words," Deyris added in an interview, "the complete opposite of the shadows and impreciseness we found ourselves with the trial of Christine Malevre."

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