Raising a plastic cup, Alain Cocq gestured towards the camera and said, “Well, my friends, I’ll drink to your health one last time.”
In a video livestreamed to Facebook just after midnight on September 5, the 57-year-old Frenchman announced to his followers his plan to die. Cocq has an extremely rare, painful and incurable medical condition that causes the walls of his arteries to stick together. He says that he’s been in the terminal stage of his illness for the last 34 years.
After unsuccessfully petitioning French President Emmanuel Macron to allow him to die in dignity through medical assistance, Cocq announced that he would stop eating and drinking, starting on Friday night, and that he would livestream the process on Facebook.
But the social media platform quickly moved to ban Cocq from posting videos. Cocq told his more than 22,000 followers and 4,000 Facebook friends that the site had blocked him until September 8. He has previously said that he expects to die within two to five days.
Undeterred, Cocq said that he would find another solution within the day. But he also called on his followers to protest against Facebook’s “unjust methods of discrimination and obstruction of freedom of expression”.
Facebook considers his death a suicide, depictions of which are banned on the social network. A spokesperson from Facebook France told French newspaper Le Monde that while the company “respects his decision to want to draw attention to this complex issue”, its regulations meant it was obliged to block his video “because our rules do not allow the showing of suicide attempts”.
Why livestream your death?
Alain Cocq has long campaigned for the right to a medically assisted death. He’s travelled in his wheelchair from his home in Dijon in eastern France to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, to the European institutions in Brussels and to the United Nations in Geneva to meet with lawmakers and advocate for the right to active euthanasia.
Cocq explained to French media that he wanted to show his final moments of agony to an online audience of thousands of people “so that people know what the end of life is like in France”.
He is clear, however, that he doesn’t want the video to be too upsetting for viewers. He plans to broadcast it without sound and the camera will stop filming as soon as he dies. “For me, it’s out of the question to show disturbing images,” he said. “The moment I pass away will be a deliverance. The fight will go on after me.”
The law in France
Cocq’s deteriorating condition has confined him to his bed at home, where he says he is “crippled by unbearable pain”. He wrote a letter to the French president imploring him to let him “pass away peacefully”. In the response Cocq received on September 3, Emmanuel Macron wrote that he was “moved” by Cocq’s plea, but said that “because I am not above the law, I cannot grant you your request”.
Euthanasia is illegal in France. The Claeys-Leonetti law, which was modified in 2016, grants the right to terminally ill patients to be heavily sedated until death, but only under specific circumstances – for instance, if death is imminent. This is not the case for Cocq.
The delegate general of the Association pour le droit à mourir dans la dignité [Association for the Right to Die in Dignity] Philippe Lohéac told FRANCE 24 in exasperation that the ”sole loophole” in the Claeys-Leonetti law for those who are at the end of their life “is the possibility to die of hunger and thirst”.
“That’s the Leonetti law,” he added. “Today, it’s Alain Cocq. Tomorrow, it will be someone else.”
According to a survey carried out by the charitable organisation in 2019, 96 percent of French people are in favour of euthanasia when a patient is experiencing serious and incurable suffering.
France is a lot more rigid on the issue than other European countries. In Europe there are five countries – Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg – where physician-assisted euthanasia is legal.
France has had other high-profile cases similar to Cocq's. Vincent Lambert was left quadriplegic and in a vegetative state after a motorcycle accident in 2008. He remained like that for 11 years while his family tussled over whether he should live or die. After a long legal battle, doctors removed life support and he died in July last year.
In February this year, France’s then-health minister Agnès Buzyn said that the government would again look into the issue of end-of-life and palliative care – a plan that was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.