French assisted dying bill to be examined in parliament commission

Macron said last month that France needed the law because "there are situations you cannot humanely accept".

A French parliamentary commission was on Monday to begin examining a controversial right-to-die bill, to be submitted to the full National Assembly in May.

The initiative has the backing of President Emmanuel Macron, who insists, however, that any authorisation to choose death should be limited to people with incurable illnesses and intense physical or psychological pain.

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The bill is widely referred to as focussing on “end of life” or “aid in dying” in the French debate, rather than “assisted suicide” or “euthanasia“.

Macron said last month that France needed the law because “there are situations you cannot humanely accept”.

The goal was “to reconcile the autonomy of the individual with the solidarity of the nation”, he said.

Health Minister Catherine Vautrin, the bill’s sponsor, told the Corse Matin newspaper that the text was “extremely balanced”, notably thanks to the strict conditions for its application.

Starting on Monday, the parliamentary commission is to gather input from the medical profession, religious leaders, associations, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and experts on assisted dying over the coming weeks.

“We need to listen to everybody,” said commission head Agnes Firmin de Bodo, a former junior health minister.

A commission-approved text is then to be submitted to the full parliament on May 27.

The bill, unlikely to be put to a vote before 2025, is facing stiff opposition from religious leaders in what is traditionally a Catholic country, as well as many health workers.

– ‘Progress and humanity’ –

One key question is whether patients who are no longer able to trigger the protocol ending their life themselves can be euthanised by qualified personnel.

Only people born in France or long-term residents will be allowed to apply for assisted dying.

Eligible patients will have to be over 18, able to clearly express their wishes and suffer from a condition that limits their life expectancy to the short or medium term.

Psychiatric illnesses are specifically ruled out from the bill, as are neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

If approved, the law would represent “progress and humanity”, said Olivier Falorni, the commission’s spokesman.

Firmin de Bodo added that she hoped for “calm” exchanges in parliament, while Prime Minister Gabriel Attal urged lawmakers to show “the greatest respect towards everybody’s convictions”.

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Macron’s centrist allies and left-wing lawmakers are expected to argue in favour of the bill, with right-wing and far-right parliamentarians broadly hostile.

But all parties’ parliamentary leaders have said that they will not pressure their MPs to follow the party line.

Until now, French patients in pain wishing to end their lives have had to travel abroad, including to neighbouring Belgium.

A 2005 law legalised passive euthanasia, such as withholding artificial life support, and doctors are allowed to induce “deep and continuous sedation” for terminally ill patients in pain.

But active euthanasia, whereby doctors administer lethal doses of drugs to patients, is illegal.

Assisted suicide — meaning patients can receive help to voluntarily take their own life — is also banned.

© Agence France-Presse

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