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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
French minister admits mercy killings
French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner
Kouchner's remarks are expected to spark a debate
The French Health Minister, Bernard Kouchner, has admitted he practised euthanasia when he worked as a doctor.

In an interview with the Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland, Mr Kouchner said he practised mercy killings during the wars in Lebanon and Vietnam, injecting people who he said were suffering too much.

When people were suffering too much pain and I knew in advance they would die, I would help them

Bernard Kouchner
Mr Kouchner - a founding member of the Paris-based medical aid agency, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) - said passive euthanasia, where doctors suspend treatment of dying patients, occurs frequently in France.

The Netherlands will become the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia when a new law allowing mercy killing comes into effect this autumn.

Dutch doctors help around 4,000 patients to die each year, but they still face prosecution if they do not follow strict guidelines.

BBC correspondent Geraldine Coughlan says Mr Kouchner's remarks are expected to spark a debate in other countries on euthanasia.

Sensitive issue

Mr Kouchner said he had helped various people to die during his career, injecting with morphine rather than administering pills.

Netherlands parliament passing law
The Netherlands have already passed a euthanasia law

"When people were suffering too much pain and I knew in advance they would die, I would help them," he said.

But euthanasia is a sensitive issue in France, and Mr Kouchner says he has no intention of introducing legislation to allow it.

He said if there is to be discussion on any changes to the practice it will focus on protecting the patient.

"Euthanasia contradicts medical ethics," he said. "Doctors exist to protect life, not to end it. But if someone says he wants to die, society has to take that into account."

Mr Kouchner has a reputation as an outspoken critic of human rights abuses throughout the world

This reputation was first acquired during relief work in the Biafra war in the late 1960s, in which he criticised aid agencies for failing to overcome administrative obstacles, and his work for MSF since the 1970s.

But he is perhaps best known for his stint as UN administrator for Kosovo in the late 1990s.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
"Bernard Kouchner says he has no intention of trying to introduce legislation"
See also:

17 Nov 00 | Europe
Kouchner: Doctor with a vision
11 Apr 01 | Europe
Dutch 'mercy killing law' passed
10 Apr 01 | Europe
Analysis: New law changes little
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