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French citizens’ council votes for assisted dying (with conditions)

It comes after France’s ethics advisory body earlier said that patients are increasingly ‘forgotten’ in end-of-life care

The majority of citizens taking part in the convention said they were in favour of changing the laws on assisted suicide as the current legal position is not adequate Pic: Patrick Thomas / Shutterstock

A council made up of French citizens, launched on the initiative of President Emmanuel Macron to debate the question of ‘end of life’ rights, has voted strongly in favour of allowing assisted dying for people at the end of their life.

The 180-member Conseil économique social et environnemental (CESE) met for six weekends to debate and vote on certain key aspects of current law. The government has pledged to strongly consider their proposals.

A total of 84% said that the current law (dubbed the loi Claeys-Leonetti) “does not respond to all of the situations encountered”, and that “we must open up help to die”. Almost three quarters (72%) said that they are in favour of assisted suicide, compared to 65.7% who were in favour of euthanasia.

President Macron announced the creation of the CESE in October last year. It followed France’s ethics advisory body, The Comité consultatif national d’éthique (CCNE), which studies ethical issues related to scientific progress, which said that patients are increasingly “forgotten” in end-of-life care. 

“Respecting the right to life does not mean a duty to live a life deemed unbearable by he or she who experiences it. There is no obligation to live,” it said.

It also said that if the government decides to allow assisted suicide, this should be for “adults suffering from serious and incurable diseases, causing sustained physical or psychological suffering”, and likely to result in their death in the medium term.

Since 2016, the Claeys-Leonetti law has allowed people to be kept in a state of ‘continued and deep sedation’ until their death, if they so choose but assisted suicide or anything that would lead directly to the person’s death is not allowed.

Read more: France to hold national debate over legalising assisted suicide 

In more detail, the convention voted:

Under-18s

56% said that people under 18 should be subject to the same rules as adults for assisted suicide. 22.6% said that the law should only apply to people over 18. 67.3% said the same laws should apply for euthanasia. 11.9% said this should only apply to adults.

Conditions

  • 72% said that there should be conditions to be able to qualify for the right to assisted suicide

  • 75% said the same for euthanasia

Among the conditions suggested, people requesting the right to die should have an incurable illness or pain, the convention said. 

  • For assisted suicide, 45% said that this should be allowed even if the illness has not been diagnosed as terminal. 40% said the same for euthanasia. 35.1% abstained on this question for assisted suicide and 34.2% for euthanasia.

President of the CESE, Claire Thoury, said that France would be at a “turning point” if it chose to change the law on the subject. 

She said: “We can be collectively proud of what has just happened. Congratulations to all of you for giving us hope in this sometimes worrying democratic context.”

Pledge of government ‘clarity’

However, the government’s position on whether to change end-of-life laws is far from clear. 

When the CESE opened, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne promised that the convention would help bring “major clarity to her government”. She pledged to “engage” and appear before the citizens again after their recommendations had been issued, including to discuss those that the government declined to adopt.

But in an action that appears somewhat contrary to this, the Elysée cancelled a dinner that had been scheduled for February 22, which would have invited many representatives of the ‘end of life’ debate to an audience with President Macron. 

Invitees are said to have included representatives of various faiths as well as defenders of legal change on the issue. Upon cancelling the dinner, the Elysée said that the moment was not “appropriate”.

One MEP, François-Xavier Bellamy, appeared to dismiss the CESE’s vote, saying that the convention “only represents itself” and “does not influence our democracy”.

MPs in favour of law change?

Some MPs have countered Mr Bellamy’s claim, saying that many elected officials are in favour of law change on the subject.

MP Pierre Juston said that many MPs are in favour, including the majority of those on the left. He said: “Even among the RN (far-right Rassemblement National), we see in surveys that the vast majority of their supporters want to see this change.”

He said that the debate is not “between ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-death’” despite some religious leaders framing the issue in this way.

He said: “We are as much lovers of life as those who would call themselves ‘pro-life’. In fact, I would go further. It is precisely because we love life so much that we want to take its entirety into account, including death, which will affect us all.”

Assisted suicide and euthanasia: What’s the difference? 

Assisted suicide is when someone else deliberately helps someone end their own life. For example, if the person who wants to die obtains an overdose of medication they otherwise would not take, and someone helps them deliberately, knowing the intention and outcome.

Euthanasia is when someone deliberately ends someone’s life to end their suffering. For example, if a friend or relative of the person who wants to die obtains the medication for the intention of ending that person’s life, and helps them take the overdose knowingly for that purpose.

Voluntary euthanasia is when someone is unable to actually take their own life, but asks for help in doing so.

Involuntary euthanasia is when the ill person is unable to take their own life or ask for help in doing so (because they are in a coma, for example), but they expressed their desire to end their life in such circumstances beforehand, when they could still consent.

Related articles

France to hold national debate over legalising assisted suicide

France assisted dying bill blocked by 5 centre-right party MPs

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