France is in the grip of a national debate over euthanasia after the government announced a so-called Citizens’ Convention will begin in October to discuss updating legislation on euthanasia.
In all cases, euthanasia is prohibited by law in France and the six-month public consultation will examine legal changes and exceptions, for example in the case of terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives. Some French patients travel to other European countries to look for other end-of-life options.
A small number of countries recognize the right to euthanasia, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand. Some states in the United States also allow euthanasia, and legislation allowing this practice is progressing in Portugal and Italy.
French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard, who died by assisted suicide in Switzerland last Tuesday, was allowed to plan his own death to end his suffering from what his lawyer described as “multiple disabling illnesses”.
According to polls, around 90 percent of the French support the legalization of euthanasia. However, there is staunch opposition to changing the law among conservative politicians and pro-life campaign groups.
A recent euthanasia law failed to get a foothold in France’s parliament after opposition politicians crushed the law with more than 2,000 amendments. However, French President Emmanuel Macron made the decision to convene a citizens’ convention after the National Ethics Committee backed the reform of current laws in a report released last week.
“The issue of end-of-life needs to be thoroughly discussed by the nation,” Macron’s office said in a statement. “The debate on this sensitive issue must be conducted with great respect and caution, and our fellow citizens must have the opportunity to be informed.”
French authorities have increasingly experimented with using citizens’ conventions to make informed decisions. In Nantes, a panel of 80 residents was consulted on lockdown procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Macron’s office said that depending on the outcome of the convention, changes to the legal framework can be expected by the end of next year.
In its report, the National Ethics Committee spoke out in favor of euthanasia “under strict conditions”, for example in the case of “adults suffering from serious and incurable diseases” or “with physical and/or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated”.
Francois Arnault, the president of France’s largest medical association, CNOM, told French medical journal Le Quotidien du Medecin that he was not in favor of enabling doctors to administer lethal doses of drugs.
“This is not the doctor’s job and the association is not pro-euthanasia,” said Arnault, who also called for a “conscience clause” in a future law that would allow doctors to refuse to participate in the procedure.
Agencies contributed to this story.