No Consensus in Sight for Legalizing Euthanasia in France

23/09/2022

Earlier this month President Emmanuel Macron declared to the actress, Line Renaud, in regard to euthanasia: “This is the time for it, so it will be done.” Is this a calculated diversion at a time when some of the country’s basic foundations, such as retirement pensions, the cost of living, energy, and the health system have all been shaken? Or is it because of a feeling that there would a consensus on the end-of-life so that a law, approved by the majority of the French people, would be a credit to Macron’s government? Is this timing a challenge to pass smoothly into law a subject so far removed from the main preoccupations of the French people, so that the worst reaction to be expected would be nothing but general indifference?

The record high abstention rates in the last presidential election have pushed journalists to assert that the “abstentionists” are the country’s leading political party. Following the legislative elections which revealed that the political world is even more divided, what was the reaction of the main contributors to the end-of-life debate?

Many healthcare professionals have retorted to the Ethics Committee’s latest recommendation that administering death is not healthcare!

Leading the fight against pain and suffering, standing by their patients, many caregivers denounce the announcements made simultaneously on September 13th by the Ethics Committee and the French government. To date, nine learned societies and associations, all involved in the end-of-life and healthcare, have joined forces to contest the recommendation made by the “CCNE” (French National Consultative Ethics Committee) and to assert that “administering death is not healthcare”. The full text where they point out the fact that the Ethics Committee itself did not reach consensus on this latest recommendation, is available on the website for French Palliative Care Workers, the “SFAP” (Société Française d’Accompagnement et de Soins Palliatifs). Furthermore, they point out that “their current practices are based on a clear deontology and medical ethics, marked by a long and unwavering historical position.” Indeed all doctors taking the Hippocratic oath dating from the 4th century BC promise: “Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.”The president of the National Order of Physicians, François Arnault reiterated during an interview with the Doctor’s Daily that “the Order is not in favor of euthanasia”. In the event that a medical procedure for administering death is legalized, he pointed out the necessity of having a specific conscience clause for caregivers. He also emphasized that palliative care is lagging behind in France and “that we must fight against inequalities in palliative care, by training, and by observing the Leonetti Claeys law”.

On “France Info” radio, a palliative care nurse, Xavier, declared that death has never been and will never be a dignified response to suffering.”  Under the pen name of “the star man, he publishes a successful comic strip entitled “to life”, about his daily life caring for patients.  He believes that the current law is “well-written and coherent”.  The heart of his vocation is based on care. He added: “I do not believe the role of medicine is to decide who is eligible to die or not.”

In an interview withParis Match” a palliative care doctor at the “Institut Curie”, Alexis Burnod states that patients undergo a positive experience when they are properly taken care of and their pain is handled correctly. About the legal framework, he points out the excesses in the countries that have legalized euthanasia. Burnod stresses that “once such a law is adopted, it is hard to prevent it from evolving into an incentive for suicide. ” Jean Leonetti, who wrote the 2005 law and co-authored the 2016 law, calls us to bear in mind that “Human life is the supreme value” and that we must “be extremely cautious” on “the major transgression of conferring death on someone.”

In the Press

In the “Ouest France” newspaper, an op-ed by Jeanne-Emmanuelle Hutin reminds Robert Badinter’s forceful words in 2008. He is the Keeper of the Seals who voted to abolish the death penalty in 1982: “Does the State have the power and the right to say: ‘Since you want to die I will kill you?’ […] In a democracy, no one can take the life of another. This principle must be respected by the State.” Another newspaper article in “Le Figaro” addresses the scenario whereby society would only focus on performance and appearance, in the event that a future law would legalize euthanasia. From a political aspect, in an article in Le Monde, two reporters stress the importance for French president Macron “to avoid giving the impression that he has a preconceived script on the subject”. Among the pitfalls of legalization, they underline how difficult it is “to define exceptions that would not be considered arbitrary.

Religious Representatives in Favor of a Better Life

Several representatives of different faiths have voiced their support for palliative care and for the urgency of offering equitable access throughout France. The Chief Rabbi of France, Chaim Korsia, said “there is no need to go further than the current law.” He views legalizing euthanasia as a “breach with classic anthropology” that “borders on eugenics.”

The Protestant Federation of France (FPF) stated that it feared the idea behind changing the legislation is “economically or ideologically motivated“. When questioned in the plane on his return flight from Kazakhstan, Pope Francis gave a concise response: “Killing is not human. Period. If there is a motivation to kill, you will end up killing again. It’s not human.”  In an article in Le Monde, the French bishops spoke of the discrepancy between the country’s solidarity during the Covid-19 crisis and the current push for legalizing euthanasia. “How is it fathomable that only a few months after this wonderful wave of solidarity and brotherhood, we are now being given the feeling that society can find no other solution for weakness, vulnerability or the end-of-life, than active assistance in dying, than assisted suicide?

Euthanasia is a sign that a community lacks brotherhood and solidarity.” This quote from Philippe Pozzo’s bookThe Immobile Walker” is a good summary of what is at stake in the upcoming discussions.

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On 13th September, during publication of instruction No. 139 by the CCNE on the end of life, according to which “there is a way for ethical application of an active assistance to die”, it is surprising to note the u-turn relative to a previous instruction on the subject dated 2013.

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