Painful debate on the right to euthanasia in France

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An “ultimate freedom” or a “transgression” ?: French deputies continued Thursday a painful and philosophical debate on the opening of a right to euthanasia for people suffering from an incurable pathology, on the occasion of the ‘examination of a bill in a country that regularly tears up on the subject.

The French “are an immense majority to be in favor of the right to euthanasia”, an “ultimate freedom” to “extinguish in peace the light of our existence”, launched the opposition deputy Olivier Falorni, author of the proposal for law. Visibly moved, he was greeted by thunderous standing applause from all the benches.

Olivier Falorni believes that opening the right to medically assisted death would make it possible to get out of the “hypocrisy” of letting people go into “exile” in Belgium or Switzerland to have recourse to it, or close their eyes to the “2000 to 4000 »clandestine euthanasia which would be practiced each year in France.

However, the debate has virtually no chance of succeeding due to lack of time in the face of a barrage of thousands of amendments tabled by opponents of the proposal. Mr. Falorni criticized these thousands of amendments, aimed at “preventing the Assembly from voting” within the allotted time, before midnight.

For his part, the French Minister of Health Olivier Véran declared himself personally “not convinced that this major debate should be opened today”, citing in particular the heavy context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, he promised better application of the current French law, known as Claeys-Leonetti, adopted in 2016, which provides for deep and continuous sedation that can lead to death, but without active euthanasia.

Article 1 of MP Falorni’s proposal provides that “any capable person of full age, in an advanced or terminal phase of a serious and incurable disease, whatever the cause, causing physical or psychological suffering which cannot be alleviated or that it deems unbearable ”, can ask for“ medical assistance ”to die“ by active assistance ”.

In Europe, practices are very disparate: Spain became in March the fourth European country to decriminalize euthanasia, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Other forms of assisted death also exist in Europe, such as stopping treatment.

Other countries like Ireland and Poland remain resistant to it.

In France, the subject divides all the parliamentary groups and arouses the embarrassment of the government.

Unbearable pain

The boss of the deputies of the presidential party LREM, Christophe Castaner, admitted that his group did not “have a unanimous position”.

Agnès Firmin-Le Bodo (Agir group, center) pleaded for “the freedom to choose our death and to supervise it”, a position taken up by many elected in the majority as well as the opposition.

The elected Communist Pierre Dharréville, for his part, let his confusion point out: “who are we to kill? Isn’t that a transgression? What kind of humanity do we want to be? ”He asked himself.

Opponents of the proposal consider it premature to consider going any further while the “Claeys-Leonetti” law is still poorly applied. A fifth of French departments still do not have a palliative care center.

Others are radically hostile to the measure for philosophical and religious principles.

The bill being provided for within the framework of a “parliamentary niche” where the debate lasts a maximum of one day, this reduced time will most certainly not allow the examination of more than 3000 amendments (including 2300 from a handful of deputies. The Republicans (LR, right) hostile to this proposal), risking at midnight to leave an unfinished debate and a text without a vote for or against.

Several high-profile cases on this sensitive subject have torn France apart. The most emblematic is that of Vincent Lambert, a former nurse in an irreversible vegetative state since a road accident in 2008.

The forties died on July 11, 2019 following the cessation of his treatments, after a deep sedation wanted by doctors and his wife, but which his parents opposed in court.