At the request of the French Senate information mission on the end of life, Tugdual Derville the Alliance VITA spokesman and Dr. Paul Régnier-Vigouroux were auditioned on Wednesday 22nd March 2023 at the Luxembourg Palace.
The audition, which lasted one and a half hours was hosted by three of the mission interviewers: Christine Bonfanti-Dossat (LR, Lot-et-Garonne) and Michelle Meunier (PS, Loire-Atlantique) who were present, and Corinne Imbert (LR, Charente-Maritime) by videoconference. The Senators chose to interview the representatives of Alliance VITA at the same time as those from the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation.
The Alliance VITA representatives expressed their point of view based on:
- The fundamental convictions supported by the association: respect for the life and dignity of all people,
- Their experience of assistance to those confronted with difficult end of life situations, through their “SOS fin de vie” (SOS end of life) help line.
- The specific expertise of Dr. Régnier-Vigouroux, a committed member of Alliance VITA, a geriatrician, specialised in pain relief and, for twenty years an expert in palliative care, in home settings and in hospitals.
On the basis of several difficult end of life situations which he was able to accompany to the end (Charcot’s disease, ultimate phase cancer), Dr. Régnier Vigouroux explained in particular his practice of reasoned sedation, which enables first of all – as far as is possible – proper pain relief without losing all relations, with the possible resort to deep sedation at the very end of life, in respect of the natural time of death.
He explained the difference in nature and not of degree between this type of sedation and assisted suicide or euthanasia, according to the strict recommendations of the High Authority on Health (HAS). The legalisation of an “active assistance in dying” – a highly questionable terminology in his view – for those whose life expectancy is threatened in the medium term would result in depriving such patients and their families – who should all be able to access palliative care – of a comforting accompaniment and a peaceful death. Between an administered death and a well-accompanied natural death, the impact on the patient, the family and the carers is radically different.
As a doctor, he logically pleaded for the retention of the principle of the two-thousand year old Hippocratic oath: the prohibition to kill is the prime condition for the trust between a vulnerable patient and his/her carers, who must avoid any omnipotence.
Next, Tugdual Derville, the recent author of an essay Docteur, ai-je le droit de vivre encore un peu ? – Euthanasie et suicide assisté démasqués (Salvator) [Doctor, Am I Entitled to Live a Little Longer – Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Unmasked] defended the prevention of all suicides, without exception, and therefore support for the most dependent, despairing and isolated. In the name of democracy, he challenged the idea that some categories of patients – due to their evolving handicap– could be deprived of such prevention. It would be clearly discriminatory.
He recalled the advice by Robert Badinter, who was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty: to challenge any form of euthanasia even if “exceptional” when he stated that: “In a democracy, we do not kill”. Tugdual Derville moreover denounced the indecency of the promotion of palliative care as an intended compensation for the legalisation of assisted suicide or euthanasia. The two practices are quite incompatible: since one is expeditious and rejects the value of certain lives, whilst the other considers all fragile life as dignified and respects the moment of natural death.
Recalling the list of derivatives observed abroad, the Alliance VITA spokesman warned against the illusion of a so-called “controlled” legalisation of the administration of death. Pointing at the forced entry of the economic argument in the debate, he finally underlined the painful impact of bereavement by sudden death.
The Alliance VITA representatives concluded by asking the Senate to plead for an overall health policy which does not merely say no to assisted suicide and euthanasia, suggesting:
- A detailed investigation into the reality of “dying badly” which is constantly being put forward without any precise, serious or reliable data,
- A law for old age and autonomy which takes into account the acceleration of ageing, based on intergenerational options and the fight against the “social death” of many isolated old age people,
- The concrete establishment of a right for all, if needed, to have access to high quality palliative care.
- The reinforcement of a policy for suicide prevention which must especially not exclude our most vulnerable, dependent or aged fellow citizens.