From Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January, the Citizens’ Convention on the end of life convened for its 3rd session, opening the “deliberation” phase, following on from the first two sessions in December devoted to “appropriation”. The deliberation began by considering the question of active assistance to die.
After the first day which consisted of group workshops and exchanges with the minister Olivier Véran, the citizens at the Convention took part, on the morning of Saturday 7th January, in a round table on “Active assistance to die”, an expression intended to cover both euthanasia and assisted suicide. The guest speakers for the round table were Jonathan Denis and Claire Fourcade, respectively President of ADMD (Association for the right to die with dignity) and President of SFAP (French Society for Accompaniment and Palliative Care).
The choice of speakers may be somewhat surprising. In opposition to ADMD, outside the world of carers and supporters committed to palliative care, there are also other citizens opposed to euthanasia. As pointed out by Tugdual Derville, who is spokesman for Alliance VITA, in a tweet, “The reduction of opposition to euthanasia to palliative care is an over-simplification. Not only are many other medical specialities concerned, but especially the prevention of suicide (a national tragedy) and of despair concerns ALL citizens.”
The two speakers defended two opposite views of society. The President of ADMD pleaded for the opening of a “range of possibilities“, meaning the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide, in the name of freedom, including for mental disorders and for minors (as a personal point of view). In opposition, Claire Fourcade defended the solidarity of society with respect to the most vulnerable, sending them the message “You count for us”, as well as the role of carers: “The very idea that the hand which nurses could also be the hand which kills is for them absolutely unthinkable“. The reading of an “open letter to a patient”, at the beginning of the round table, deeply affected the citizens. She insisted on the risk of losing all meaning for carers in the event of legalisation of euthanasia. According to a survey conducted with palliative care workers, one third would resign in the event of a change in the law. Referring to the young carers in her team, Claire Fourcade pleaded for them to be supported, accompanied: “They need to know that what they are doing on a daily basis has some meaning for you.” Several statements were applauded by the public.
A large part of the citizens’ questions concerned the risks of diversion and problematic cases of the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide: deviations observed abroad, euthanasia of patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, for minors, possible repercussions for the aged who choose to hasten their death “in order not to cause inconvenience” …One citizen pointed out the catastrophic state of hospitals and nursing homes today. “Surely there must be a concern that the legalisation of euthanasia, in this context where the medical profession appears on the edge of collapse, could lead to errors, deviations and negligence which would be absolutely intolerable in view of the subject we are considering?”
On the morning of the third day of this 3rd session, a round table was organised with “non-religious spiritualities”, i.e. the Convention organisers, the representatives of four Masonic lodges and two philosophers, Monique Canto-Sperber and André Comte-Sponville. All the speakers were unanimously in favour of “active assistance to die”. It is somewhat astonishing however that the CESE (Economic Social and Environmental Council) chose to invite, as well as the free-masons, only philosophers whose positions in favour of euthanasia or assisted suicide are well known. André Comte-Sponville in particular is honorary member of the management board of ADMD. Whatever happened to the claimed principles of neutrality and impartiality which are indeed included in the roadmap for the Citizens’ Convention?
According to the information reported by La Croix and La Vie, an improvised vote was organised at the end of the session to answer the question : “At this stage, are you in favour of a change in the legal framework ?” 105 out of 158 voters were for, 13 against, and 38 abstained. There again, this vote which was not scheduled causes concern, some citizens had left and the deliberations had just begun. The Convention has yet to meet for another six week-ends up till 19th March. Isn’t this vote, tabled by the organisers, surely liable to bias the coming work?
Nevertheless, the vote says nothing about the direction in which the legal framework should evolve, and one might imagine, in view of the questions asked during the round tables, that the citizens are quite divided on the issue. According to La Croix, of the 77 proposals discussed on Saturday, only those calling for more information on the end of life and those aimed at developing the widespread availability of palliative care were unanimously approved. The next stage in the deliberations: session 4, is scheduled from Friday 20th till Sunday 22nd January.