Thursday, October 02, 2003

Controversy Follows After Morbid Book Release Promotion

Three years after a crippling accident, a young French man's mother and doctors help him commit suicide. Here come the book publishers.

A double controversy swept France this week following the assisted suicide of Vincent Humbert on September 26. Namely, should a terminally ill patient have the right to commit suicide, and should his book publisher be allowed to take advantage of the event for a book promo?

Humbert, a 22-year-old volunteer fireman, was the victim of a car accident in 2000 that left him quadriplegic, mute, and nearly blind. He had been campaigning for the right to die ever since, taking his case to the press and the president last December through an open letter addressed to Jaques Chirac.

This past week he finally got his wish--though not quite as planned. On September 24, three years after Vincent's crippling accident, his mother Marie injected barbiturates into his hospital IV. But the young quadriplegic did not die immediately, and was rushed to the emergency room, where he would spend two days on life support before doctors agreed to turn off his artificial respirator.

The public response to Vincent's death was immediate. President Chirac announced that his thoughts were with the Humbert family, and then, in typical Chirac fashion, quietly stepped aside to let the euthanasia battle ensue. The president of the National Assembly pledged to open an investigation into the subject, while French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin declared himself against a pro-euthanasia law. Meanwhile, TV talk shows, documentaries, and radio hosts flooded the air waves with discussions on the subject, with doctors, politicians, and the public all weighing in with their opinion.

In fact, in the initial days following Vincent's death France's right-to-die debate mirrored those of recent years, with politicians and the public debating over whether Marie should be prosecuted for taking her son's life.

But then things took a turn towards the unusual, as one of Vincent's doctors stepped in and declared that while Marie poisoned her son, he was the one responsible for Vincent's death: If the question is asked: who killed Vincent Humbert? I'll answer: I did, not Madame Humbert."

And then there was Vincent's book, I Ask You for the Right to Die, which debuted on newsstands September 25. Such success could hardly have been better timed for the book's publisher, Michel Lafon, who watched the book shoot to number two on on September 26, the day of Vincent's death.

As a result, Lafon, who is best known as the publisher of shocker autobiographies, has spent this past week denying that the book release and suicide were coordinated. But no one seems to be buying it. After all, Lafon had requested that the press not publish any news about the book until September 24 (the day Marie attempted to kill Vincent), and had promoted the book on with the phrase, "When this book appears [Vincent] will perhaps have left this world."

In other media death watch news, the lawyer for Noir Desir singer Bertrand Cantat has called for the suspension of Nadine Trintignant's novel concerning the death of her actress daughter, Marie. My Daughter, Marie debuted in stores September 30 and describes the life and death of the popular French actress, who died late July in Lithuania after receiving several violent blows from Cantat, her boyfriend at the time.

The singer has admitted to hitting the actress and is currently jailed in Vilnius awaiting trial. His lawyer, however, claims that the book assumes his client is guilty, and thus could negatively influence the outcome of the case. Marie Trintignant has responded by saying that is exactly the point.

But Marie's lawyer, smelling censorship, quickly rushed to defend the book as "an expression of pain and nothing else. Nadine Trintignant is not a judge."

All of which hardly hurt sales of My Daughter, Marie, which had reached the coveted number two spot by October 1. In the meantime, I Ask You for the Right to Die has fallen to number 24, perhaps fitting karmic retribution for its publisher, but certainly less so for its author.

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