Can terminally ill people be actively helped to die? In France, citizens have debated it extensively and the ball is now in the court of the legislature. But the issue divides society.
How much suffering does a terminally ill person have to endure, and can life be ended medically? In France, after months of consultation with Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, a citizens’ convention was to submit proposals for action on the end of life and also address the sensitive issue of euthanasia.
A meeting with President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled for Monday. He had already announced that possible changes in the law could be made by the end of next year.
As in Germany, active euthanasia, i.e. administering a deadly drug to a person, is prohibited in France. Passive euthanasia by turning off machines and indirect euthanasia using strong drugs to relieve pain and hasten death as a side effect are permitted.
Violent debates about cases of the seriously ill
In recent years, cases of seriously ill people whose deaths have been fought for have caused heated debates. Discussions about changing the law brought no results in Macron’s first term. In the fall, the debate gained new impetus: France’s Ethics Council declared an ethical use of active euthanasia under certain strict conditions to be conceivable. Access should only be given to terminally ill adults who have physical or mental illnesses that cannot be alleviated and whose illness is life-threatening in the medium term. Health workers should be able to personally refuse active euthanasia – combined with the obligation to refer those affected to others.
The issue is divided. Several organizations in the care sector demanded that staff should be kept out of active euthanasia. They warned of a “big ethical jerk”. Euthanasia is a “medically administered death” that would subvert care and end collective ethics.
Doctor Régis Aubry, on the other hand, wrote on the online platform “Mediapart”: “Caring does not mean imposing one’s beliefs, but respecting those of others.” His colleague François Guillemot agrees: “It’s not up to the doctor or the philosopher to decide. Euthanasia is not euthanasia, but a help in living one’s decision.” More than 55,000 people signed a petition calling the ban on active euthanasia in France unfair.
Also controversial discussion in Germany
In Germany, the discussion is similarly controversial. Here, too, euthanasia must be legally regulated again after the Federal Constitutional Court overturned the 2015 ban on commercial – i.e. intended to be repeated – euthanasia in 2020. Reason: This violates the right of the individual to self-determined death. There are three cross-party drafts for a new regulation, which the Bundestag discussed for the first time in June 2022. A decision is still pending.
Despite the ban, people from France are already using euthanasia. Again and again there are reports of sick people going to the neighboring French-speaking countries of Switzerland and Belgium to die. In Belgium, adults have been allowed to ask for their death since 2002. Last year, almost 3,000 people received euthanasia there – 53 of them came from France, according to figures from the Belgian state euthanasia commission.
However, the Belgian physician Yves de Locht, who himself provides euthanasia, said in “Parisien”: “We don’t want to become the French dying home!” Roxane Guichard, whose mother died through Belgian euthanasia, told L’Obs magazine: “Having to go abroad to die adds more little ones to a great suffering.” In France, her mother could have been accompanied by more people on her last journey and died at home.
Is France moving towards active euthanasia?
But there are also reports of euthanasia being carried out clandestinely in France. “We are many who have done it,” said doctor Guillemot “Mediapart”. Clinical psychologist Olivier Bury, who works in Belgium in the field of euthanasia, also wrote in the newspaper Le Monde: “‘Other euthanasia’ is already practiced in France in numerous places and in numerous situations, without any control or framework.” A law gives patients and doctors rights.
Within the Citizens’ Convention, three quarters of the members chosen by lot spoke out in favor of active euthanasia, provided that this is embedded in the care and support of the patient. But what the government and Macron will do with the recommendations is uncertain. Macron had so far kept a low profile on the subject – probably also in order not to alienate conservatives and Catholics.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.