France mulls legalizing ‘terminal sedation’

A new bill proposes a change to the laws on euthanasia by legalising terminal sedation and allowing people to decide whether they want to be kept alive artificially.

France mulls legalizing 'terminal sedation'
French MPs have unveiled plans to change the laws on euthanasia. Photo: Steven Depelo/Flickr

French lawmakers unveiled proposals Friday for a bill that would allow doctors to plunge terminally-ill patients into a deep sleep until they die, reviving the deeply divisive end-of-life debate.

The bill would also make "living wills" drafted by people who do not want to be kept alive artificially when they are too ill to decide, legally binding on doctors rather than merely consultative as they are now.

Euthanasia is illegal in France but Francois Hollande pledged in his 2012 presidential campaign to look into an issue that divides a country where heart-wrenching end-of-life stories continue to make headlines.

A 2005 French law already legalizes passive euthanasia, where a person causes death by withholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary to maintain life.

But the proposals go a step further, allowing doctors to couple this with "deep and continuous sedation" for terminally-ill patients who are conscious and whose treatment is not working or for those who decide to stop taking medication.

This type of sedation can also be used on patients who are not able to make decisions, in certain circumstances.

The debate on euthanasia regularly opposes those who say the sanctity of life must be respected at all costs and those who believe terminally-ill patients who suffer unbearable pain must be allowed to die.

Hollande said Friday that a parliamentary debate on the issue would be held in January.

Last year, several particularly poignant cases shook France.

In November 2013, 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 themselves 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".

And in December last year, Sandrine Rousseau, spokeswoman for the green EELV party, published a 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.

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

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