(p. A4) DOUAI, France — Her mother’s death had been expected. Terminally ill with breast cancer, she lay in a medical bed in her living room, visited daily by a nurse.
But when Sandra Lambryczak’s 80-year-old mother died earlier this year, in the predawn hours of a Saturday morning, the daughter suddenly discovered a growing problem in France’s medical system: By law, the body couldn’t be moved until the death was certified by a medical doctor, but a shortage of personnel can sometimes force families to keep their deceased loved ones at home for hours or even days.
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Doctors have resisted pressure from some politicians to delegate the authority to certify deaths to other health care officials. They argue that it is a serious medical procedure and that a mistake in noting the cause of death could have legal consequences.
“There are doctors, if they don’t know the patient well, say to themselves that they don’t want trouble later on,” said Dr. Olivier Bouchy, the vice president of the French Medical Council in the department of Meuse. “Signing a death certificate is not harmless.”
As with many things in France, tradition is perhaps also an obstacle to changing the doctor’s role in certifying deaths. The death certificate process, Dr. Bouchy said, harked back to an earlier time.
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In France, the state’s role in regulating people’s daily lives — including in matters of health — remains strong. So the lack of a doctor, especially at the emotionally vulnerable moment when a family member dies, can feel like a deep betrayal.
“We felt abandoned by the state,” said Frédéric Deleplanque, who had to wait more than two days for a doctor to certify the death of his father-in-law, Jean-Luc Bajeux, a retired autoworker. “We were nothing.”
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2019, and has the title “In France, Dying at Home Can Mean a Long Wait for a Doctor.”)