The French woman who had sought the legal right to commit suicide to end the suffering caused by an incurable and disfiguring cancer killed herself with sleeping tablets, authorities said.

Chantal Sebire, 52, whose face was distorted by a rare cancer of the sinus, was found dead in her home in eastern France last week, shortly after a court ruled that a doctor could not be allowed to help her die.

Her case sparked a widespread debate about the ethics of assisted suicide, which is illegal in France, but permitted in some circumstances in some neighboring countries including Switzerland and Belgium.

The state prosecutor in the eastern city of Dijon said Thursday toxicological examinations of Sebire's body revealed the presence of powerful barbiturates.

"It is possible to say today that Madame Chantal Sebire did not die a natural death, but by absorbing a lethal dose of barbiturates, as the autopsy has shown," Jean-Pierre Alacchi said.

Alacchi told Le Monde an investigation might be opened to establish whether she had been assisted in her suicide, but he said he would not lose sight of the "human dimension" of the case.

Click here to discuss this story.