Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Vigilance on the Semantics


According to Le Figaro newspaper,  Erik Orsenna, the member of the French Academy has been mandated to explain the vocabulary used for the end of life with publication of the first items in early December 2022 to correspond with the launch of the “citizens’ convention“.

Whilst the citizens’ consultation on the end of life is gradually being established, the debate is revealing all its complexity. Sedation, double effect act, curative treatments or palliative care, are all terms which need to be explained for the uninitiated.

Beware of “smokescreen” words used to hide the reality of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The French President says he hopes for a calm debate: “To avoid tensions, the Macronists have therefore gradually banned the use of the word “euthanasia” and use instead the expression “end of life” according to Le Monde. During his meeting in Rome with the Pope, Emmanuel Macron claimed to have told him that he did not like the word euthanasia. But to refute the word, without excluding the act merely injects confusion into the debate.

The CCNE (French ethics consultation committee), on the other hand, in its Notice No. 139 speaks of active assistance to die which covers both assisted suicide and euthanasia. In 2012, François Hollande who at the time was a candidate for the French Presidency, included in his measure 21 a mention of “medicalized assistance to end one’s life with dignity.” This vague expression, which maintained ambiguity, led to the adoption of the Claeys Leonetti law which has inevitably resulted in divergent interpretations. That expression was not however adopted by the law.

The Canadian legislators on the other hand attempted to anaesthetize the word euthanasia by using the acronym AMM for medically assisted death. This practice unfortunately is far from convincing in this nation which has embarked on a slippery slope regarding euthanasia. Since the legalization in 2016, the eligibility criteria have been extended to include the handicapped who are not at their end of life. Defenders of the handicapped and human rights have warned of the “discriminatory impact” of this measure. To the extent that people suffering from illness or handicap call for euthanasia as an alternative to poverty, as they are unable to provide for their basic needs.

From semantic subterfuge to manipulation, is but a small step. Vigilance is therefore required for any attempts at manipulation of words which could hinder the understanding of the stakes by the general public. The challenges to be met are multiple. They concern in particular the accompaniment of ageing and end of life, the finalisation of a law on old age and autonomy, the fight against social death for the very old or dependent, access to palliative care everywhere in France, or the link and solidarity between generations. Finally, it is crucial not to cover up the pernicious consequences of the deletion of the prohibition to kill on human dignity and the relationship between carers and patients.

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