A ‘citizens convention’ will decide whether France legalizes assisted suicide

Syringe euthanasia assisted suicide Credit HQuality Shutterstock CNA HQuality/Shutterstock.

This month 150 randomly-chosen French citizens will debate whether or not to adopt legislation that will legalize “assisted dying” as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to move forward on proposals to legalize assisted suicide.

The citizens’ panel will take part in a six-month debate over whether to allow legal euthanasia and assisted suicide. Polling shows that 93% of French citizens support establishing a “right to die” in the country.

Macron said Sept. 13 that the convention would be used to “then possibly change the legal framework by the end of 2023,” according to European media outlet EURACTIV.

When news of Macron’s plan broke in September, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of France warned that the move departed from France’s “ethical heritage” as a Catholic country.

“For several decades, a balance has gradually been found in our country to avoid therapeutic relentlessness and promote palliative care. This ‘French way’ [says] something about our country’s ethical heritage,” the statement said.

“We perceive that the essential need of as many people as possible is to be considered, respected, helped, accompanied, not abandoned. Their suffering must be relieved, but their calls also express their need for relationship and proximity. Isn’t the deepest expectation of all active help to live, rather than active help to die?” the statement added.

150 French citizens to decide euthanasia question

Assisted suicide commonly refers to when a doctor prescribes lethal drugs for a patient to self-administer, whereas, with euthanasia, a physician directly administers the drugs to the patient. 

France’s national ethics committee recently opened the door to legalizing assisted dying when it released a report favoring it in September. 

“There is a way to ethically apply active assistance in dying, under certain strict conditions with which it seems unacceptable to compromise,” an author for the report told the press, according to RFI.   

France’s current Claeys-Léonetti law allows terminally-ill patients to refuse treatments and receive “deep and continuous sedation” until death in the “terminal phase,” when a patient is actively dying. 

The panel will respond to a question asking if France’s current law should be changed: “Is the framework accompanying the end-of-life adapted to different situations or should changes be introduced?”

Based on the responses, the government will move forward with altering the Claeys-Leonetti law based on the panel’s suggested changes.

The country is expected to announce its decision in March 2023.

If it legalizes the measure, France would join a growing list of other European countries that provide assisted suicide in some form: Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.  

Additionally, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Austria allow passive euthanasia or withdrawing basic life-sustaining care from patients to hasten death, such as nutrition and water to cause starvation and dehydration.

Along with France, Portugal and Ireland are currently debating assisted dying measures. 

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Rita Marker is the executive director of the Patients’ Rights Council, a nonprofit that keeps people informed about assisted suicide laws around the world and offers help with paperwork for advance medical directives. 

“It’s the push of all of these countries to try and legalize — to transform — the crime of assisted suicide and euthanasia into a medical treatment,” Marker told CNA.

Marker believes people need to keep up to date on what’s happening with assisted suicide laws. 

“It will affect absolutely everyone,” she said. “In Canada, they’re even talking about euthanizing infants now. Once you transform those crimes into medical treatments, [they will] keep expanding them.”

Euthanasia legislation would ‘target’ disabled people

The Catholic Church teaches that euthanasia is “a crime against human life.”

“The Church is convinced of the necessity to reaffirm as definitive teaching that euthanasia is a crime against human life because, in this act, one chooses directly to cause the death of another innocent human being,” a 2020 document put out by the Vatican on the issue reads.

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Pope Francis also warned Macron and French officials in an audience Oct. 21 about the decision to take up the debate to legalize euthanasia. 

“I dare to hope that on such essential issues, the debate can be made in truth to accompany life until its natural end,” Francis said to the audience, urging for palliative care instead of euthanasia.  

Not Dead Yet, a U.S. grassroots disability rights group that opposes the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, condemned France’s decision.

“Not Dead Yet disagrees with France’s ethics commission that there is a ‘path towards an ethical application of assisted dying,’” John B. Kelly, a spokesman for the organization, told CNA.

Kelly is also the director of Second Thoughts MA, a Massachusetts-based grassroots group of disability rights advocates that opposes the legalization of assisted suicide because it is a “deadly form of discrimination against disabled people.”

“Despite the rhetoric of reducing suffering, assisted suicide targets disabled people for early death because of our dependence on others for assistance. Disabled people deserve the same level of suicide prevention services as everyone else,” Kelly added.

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