Axel Kahn, “reasonable and human”

“I won’t be anymore soon. ” Axel Kahn had announced it, on June 17, in the last post published on his blog where he held “The peaceful chronicle of the end of a life itinerary”. The geneticist, essayist, died Thursday, July 6 of cancer, announced the League against cancer.

His disease was diagnosed in August 2020. After a first remission, the “crab” had caught up with him with particular aggressiveness, last April. Axel Kahn, president (volunteer) of the League against cancer since 2019, had done the fight and prevention against the disease that took him the “Last great commitment of his life”, as he confided to The cross, in May : “Death is an old friend. But being around death does not necessarily imply that one feels serenity, he said. The question is not to spoil this last period of existence, because what there is to do there is of particular intensity. “

Born in 1944, Axel Kahn had placed his life under a double requirement: “To do one’s duty”, first, to be “Reasonable and humane” then, following the precept decreed by his father in the letter left on the day of his suicide. His duty, Axel Kahn did as a doctor and researcher. Specializing in genetics and hematology, he joined Inserm in the mid-1970s. Through his work on molecular genetics, he became a figure in the scientific community and in public life, chairing the Institut Cochin for several years, at the forefront of biomedical research. “He liked the transmission, the sharing of knowledge, the handoverremembers oncologist Jean-Daniel Flaysakier. He was an interlocutor who put himself within the reach of people. His media exposure and his willingly “bravache” side, however, earned him some misunderstandings on the part of colleagues.

Passionate about the question of good and evil, Axel Kahn placed ethics at the center of scientific work. Member of the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) from 1992 to 2004, he spoke out against cloning, genome editing and any temptation to increase humans. “He had an acute awareness of ethics and an ability to make people understand the issues”, remembers Didier Sicard, chairman of the committee at the time. Opposed to euthanasia, a “False freedom”, Axel Kahn insisted that every patient should demand that “His pain be relieved”. It’s not “Not always the case, I am the illustration”, he noted lately. During the Covid crisis, he never ceased to warn of the loss of luck of cancer patients, whose operations had been deprogrammed.

Death, she was a familiar companion.“He watched her come with her eyes open, tells her friend the psychologist Marie de Hennezel. Axel gave us a meditation on finitude and showed us that the days before can be beautiful. ” For Axel Kahn, we (was) nothing, without the other ”. This is also why, “That he liked to share his life experiences”, includes Jean-Daniel Flaysakier. Long before the yellow vests, this great walker had made a tour of France, on foot, to take the pulse of the country.

Coming from a Catholic family, Axel Kahn had lost his faith at the age of 15: “I wanted to create a humanism without God, a notion of good without transcendence. ” His hope? “To have given food for thought” to those who remain. “I will soon be no more, they will still be”, he wrote, speaking of his relatives. “I will accompany them. They and the others whose trust I have tried to honor. “


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