(Paris) “It is not an easy mission entrusted to you”, admitted Friday in Paris the head of the French government in front of some 200 French people drawn by lot to debate on the very sensitive question of the end of life, marked by important political and societal divisions.
The subject has fueled debates in recent years in France, in the face of high-profile cases or the example of other European countries that have authorized highly supervised active assistance in dying (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain).
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne therefore pleaded for “a reflection in nuances and responsibility” on the subject. “Be free” to “emancipate yourself from received ideas, to express your doubts, your disagreements”, she launched.
Even if the terms “euthanasia” or “assisted suicide” are not explicitly mentioned, participants will consider whether to legalize one or the other.
And in March, they will say whether or not to change the current law, without guarantee of being followed, based on this question: “Is the end-of-life support framework adapted to the different situations encountered or possible changes should be introduced? “.
“Answering this question will lead you to discuss many topics”, such as access to palliative care, ethical requirements or support in bereavement, underlined Ms.me Thick headed.
President Emmanuel Macron had requested in September the holding of this convention, organized on the model of that which had met on the climate in 2019 and 2020. The head of state, who had initially seemed very ready to “move” on the end of life, has seemed more in retreat recently.
The subject deeply divides the country.
On the political level, the whole left is for legislative change, in the name of a “dignified end of life” and the freedom to choose one’s death, when the suffering due to an incurable disease becomes unbearable.
The right and the extreme right are hostile to it, sometimes worrying about a risk of “trivializing euthanasia”, and calling for better application of the current law and palliative care.
For the presidential majority, the position on the end of life is more uncertain.
From a religious point of view, the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths have expressed in recent weeks a “set of shared concerns”, while warning that it was not a question of “presenting a united, political , who would like to impose himself”.
Basically, everyone insists first on increased development of palliative care and an evaluation of the current law.
As for caregivers, they are divided, even mostly hostile or worried about the possible legalization of active assistance in dying.
“Issue of humanity”
“The medical decision is obviously central, but it is only one aspect of the debate”, underlined the head of government.
The end of life is also an issue of humanity, a requirement for anticipation, support, an ethic of care. So, in your exchanges, try to constantly embrace the questions in their entirety and their singularity, to imagine yourself in the position of the other.
Elisabeth Borne, French Prime Minister
The current law, known as Claeys-Leonetti and the latest version of which dates from 2016, provides for “deep sedation” for terminally ill patients with intractable suffering, but does not authorize euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Should this framework be changed? The French drawn by lot will think about it, with in mind an opinion delivered in September by the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE).
This organization, whose opinions do not have the force of law but serve as a reference for public policies, for the first time deemed it possible to legalize “active assistance in dying”, but under numerous conditions and without the unanimity of its members.
Impossible for the moment to know if the citizens’ convention will follow this path and will see its proposals taken up by the government or the parliamentarians.