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France confronts issue of legalizing euthanasia

By ANGUS MCNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-22 10:36

France is in the grip of a national debate over euthanasia, after the government announced that a so-called citizens' convention will get underway in October to discuss updating laws around assisted dying.

Euthanasia is outlawed in all instances in France, and the six-month public consultation will consider legal changes and exceptions, for example in the case of terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives. Some French patients travel to other European countries to seek further end-of-life options.

A small number of countries acknowledge the right to assisted death, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand. Some states in the United States also permit euthanasia, and legislation to allow the practice is progressing in Portugal and Italy.

French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard, who died last Tuesday by assisted suicide in Switzerland, was allowed to plan his own death to end his suffering from what his lawyer described as "multiple invalidating illnesses".

Polls suggest that around 90 percent of French people are in support of legalizing euthanasia. However, there is staunch opposition to changing the law among conservative politicians as well as pro-life campaign groups.

A recent euthanasia bill failed to gain traction in the French parliament after opposition politicians weighed down the legislation with more than 2,000 amendments. However, French President Emmanuel Macron took the decision to launch a citizens' convention after the National Ethics Committee supported reform of current laws in a report published last week.

"The question of the end of life must be thoroughly debated by the nation," Macron's office said in a statement. "The debate on this delicate subject must be treated with great respect and precaution and our fellow citizens must have the opportunity to be informed."

French authorities have increasingly experimented with the use of citizens' conventions to inform decision-making. In Nantes, a panel of 80 residents was consulted over lockdown procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Macron's office said that, depending on the outcome of the convention, changes to the legal framework could be expected by the end of next year.

'Strict conditions'

In its report, the National Ethics Committee came out in support of euthanasia "under strict conditions", for example among "adults suffering from serious and incurable diseases" or those with "physical and/or psychological suffering that is impossible to appease".

Francois Arnault, who is president of France's main doctors' association CNOM, told the French medical journal Le Quotidien du Medecin that he was not in favor of putting doctors in a position where they have to administer lethal doses of drugs.

"This is not the job of the doctor, and the association is not in favor of euthanasia," said Arnault, who also called for a "conscience clause" in any future law whereby physicians may refuse to take part in the procedure.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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