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France to hold national debate over legalising assisted suicide

President Macron has announced a citizens’ convention after a report from France’s ethics body opened the door to reforms to assisted suicide laws

Veteran French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, pictured, died through assisted suicide at his Swiss home on September 13 at the age of 91 Pic: Jean Luc Godard_Denis Makarenko

A ‘citizens' convention’ will study the question of euthanasia with a view to changing the law, President Emmanuel Macron has announced. 

The consultation will begin on December 9, with a report due in March which will guide the government's discussions. The legislation could be modified by the end of next year.

150 citizens will be selected at random to participate, although the draw will be weighted so they are representative of the population in terms of sex, age, place of residence, career and education. The debates will follow the model of the citizens' climate convention held in 2019 and 2020.

President Macron made the announcement after France’s ethics advisory body said there is a “path towards an ethical application of assisted dying”. 

The Comité consultatif national d’éthique (CCNE), which studies ethical issues related to scientific progress, published its judgement in September, citing societal changes and that patients are increasingly “forgotten” in end-of-life care. 

Assisted suicide are banned, but loop-hole law

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are banned, but a 2016 law allowed doctors to keep terminally ill patients sedated until death if their condition is likely to result in a quick death. 

“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,” the CCNE wrote. 

It 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.

Read more: French assisted dying euthanasia bill blocked by 5 centre right party MP amendments

Jean-Luc Godard

Veteran French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, pictured, died through assisted suicide at his Swiss home on September 13 at the age of 91, a family representative said. 

Read more: Legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

He is credited with spearheading the revolutionary French New Wave of cinema. His films include À bout de souffle (Breathless) and Le Mépris (Contempt). 

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice defines assisted suicide as “enabling the patient to obtain the lethal substance, which the person wishing to commit suicide then takes themselves without any external assistance”. 

It is only illegal when “motivated by self-serving ends”.

There were 1,176 cases of assisted suicide in the country in 2018.

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