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Hollande urged to make assisted suicide legal

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Hollande urged to make assisted suicide legal
Will France legalise assisted suicide? Any reform is likely to provoke protests as seen here in 2012 by supporters of the anti-euthanasia "Alliance VITA" association. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP
14:23 CET+01:00
Is France set to push through another divisive social reform? After gay marriage and prostitution the next thorny topic on François Hollande's agenda could be euthanasia after a panel set up by the president recommended legalizing assisted suicide on Monday.

A panel set up at the request of President François Hollande recommended on Monday legalizing assisted suicide in France, where the debate on euthanasia has been revived after several tragic end-of-life stories.

The suicides of two elderly couples in November and the heart-wrenching testimony of a politician who watched her terminally-ill mother die after taking pills have shocked and moved France, where euthanasia is illegal.

"The possibility of committing medically assisted suicide... is, in our eyes, a legitimate right of a patient close to death or suffering from a terminal pathology, based first and foremost on their lucid consent and complete awareness," said the panel, made up of 18 citizens who are "representative" of the population.

The so-called "Conference of Citizens" also recommended allowing euthanasia in very specific circumstances, such as when the patient is not able to give his or her direct consent, but ruled out legalizing the practice as a whole.

For his part, Jean-Luc Romero, president of the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity, told The Local on Monday that it was now the responsibility of Hollande and the country's other politicians to take action.

"For the last 20 years surveys in France have shown that 90 percent of French people are in favour of legalizing euthanasia. It is now the job of these politicians who are elected by the people, to do what they promised to do," said Romero, referring to Hollande's pre-election pledge on euthanasia.

"This is the first time in France that we have had a report recommending the legalization of assisted suicide. This is big progress but now its up the politicians to take responsibility," he added.

Despite France's Catholic heritage Romero does not believe a move to legalize assisted suicide would provoke the same protests that were seen during the passage of the law that legalised gay marriage.

"This is different. End of life effects everyone, the whole of the population," he said. "Everyone is concerned by this issue. There will be some Catholics and conservative people who will object, but the big majority will be for the law."

Assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland, allows a doctor to provide a patient with all the necessary lethal substances to end their life, but lets them carry out the final act.

Euthanasia goes a step further, and allows doctors themselves to administer the lethal doses of medicine. This practice, legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, is the most controversial.

A 2005 law in France already authorises doctors to administer painkilling drugs at levels they know will, as a secondary effect, shorten a patient's life, but any kind of euthanasia reminds illegal.

Hollande promised during his 2012 presidential campaign to look into legalizing euthanasia, and a recent poll by research firm Ifop showed 92 percent of those questioned were in favour of euthanasia for "people afflicted with terminal and unbearable illnesses" who wanted to die.

The debate took a tragic turn last month when two couples in their 80s committed suicide in Paris and left notes explaining their acts.

One of the couples took their lives in the luxury Le Lutetia hotel, having asphyxiated after putting plastic bags on their heads.

They had ordered room service in the morning and were found by staff, lying hand in hand, with a typewritten note claiming "the right to die with dignity." (see below)

French couple slam 'cruel' law in sicide note

On the case of the elderly couple Romero told The Local: "Unfortunately, the fate of this couple is typical. There are many elderly French people who are forced every year to take their own lives in very unpleasant ways," he said, adding that this case proved beyond doubt that the time had come for French law to change.

"Quite simply, we need a new law which allows people in similar circumstances to this couple, to be able to seek assistance from doctors and to pass away peacefully and with dignity, in the company of their loved ones," he added.

Earlier this month, Sandrine Rousseau, spokeswoman for the green EELV party, published a heart-wrenching letter on her blog describing how she and her father watched for nine hours while her mother slowly died after taking a lot of pills.

"She did not commit suicide for fun, she did it because she knew that no one would cut short her suffering, at least not enough to die with dignity," she wrote on December 8th.

"But her agony was long. Nine hours to endure suffering that was not medically supervised."

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