Court bans Mitterrand doctor's book

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The Independent Online


In a landmark decision, a Paris judge yesterday banned distribution of a book by the late President Francois Mitterrand's doctor and ordered the publisher to pay a heavy fine for any further copies sold. The judge, Jacqueline Cochard, described the book, The Great Secret, as a "particularly serious intrusion" into the family's privacy and instructed the seizure of all remaining copies.

In the book, Dr Claude Gubler accused Mitterrand of lying about his cancer since it was diagnosed in 1981 and said that, in his opinion, the late president was "incapable" of exercising his official functions for the last six months he was in office. He later clarified that he had meant physically rather than mentally incapable.

The judgment delighted the French political establishment, which had subjected Dr Gubler to a verbal lynching since an extract from the book appeared in the magazine Paris-Match earlier this week. Leading politicians of all parties had rushed to deplore what they said was a breach of medical confidentiality and anathematised Dr Gubler variously as a "traitor", "liar" and "criminal".

He was also denounced by professional medical associations and risks being struck off.

Dr Gubler was Mitterrand's doctor for 13 years and wrote the book jointly with a former journalist at Paris-Match. It chronicles the progress of the president's cancer from its diagnosis six months after he came to office in 1981 until 1994 when Dr Gubler left the president's service. Until 1992, Dr Gubler revealed, the diagnosis had been classified a state secret and all reference to it was omitted from the regular medical reports Mitterrand had undertaken to publish.

The case for the ban was brought by members of Mitterrand's family: his widow, Danielle, their two sons, Jean-Christophe and Gilbert, his mistress of 20 years, Anne Pingeot, and their daughter, Mazarine. They instituted proceedings immediately after the first excerpt appeared on Tuesday. The book was published on Wednesday. As well as being banned from distributing the book further, the publisher, Editions Plon, must also pay a fine of 1,000 francs (pounds 133) for each copy sold after the judgment- more than 10 times the 98-franc cover price. The whole of the first run - 40,000 copies - sold out on the first day.

Mrs Cochard based her judgment on what she said was a person's absolute right to privacy. "Every individual," she said, "whatever his rank, has the right to respect for his private life." The book she said was "a particularly serious intrusion into ... the private family life of President Mitterrand".

She said the offence was all the more intolerable because the book appeared within days of President Mitterrand's death.

Dr Gubler's counsel had argued that the "freedom of every Frenchman to know about the health of the head of state" took precedence over the protection of personal privacy.

The doctor and his publishers are considering an appeal.