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Report: France will not legalise euthanasia

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2008-12-03

France should not recognise the "right to die", according to politician and doctor Jean Leonetti, blocking the way for France to become a destination for those looking to die. France should, however, recognise the right "to let die".

In his report to the French parliament on December 2, Jean Leonetti, politician and doctor, refused to "recognise the right to die".On the other hand, he reiterates the right to "let die," established in a law passed on April 22, 2005.


A small variance in wording, but a big difference in semantics


The "right to die" opens a door to legislation for euthanasia, equivalent to helping a sick person to die; the "right to let die" permits a patient to stop all treatment.


"In France, the law is no longer either applied or applicable," says Jean-Luc Romero, president of a French association promoting the right to die with dignity (ADMD). "All those who came before the tribunal for helping, on compassionate grounds, sick people to die, were not punished."


Jean Leonetti confirms this in his report: "Justice is already able to use resources of criminal proceedings to absolve or judge with leniency the functions depending on the situation."


Notably, in 2007, a nurse and a doctor who injected a fatal dose of potassium chloride into a patient with terminal cancer, were given the minimum punishment for a criminal matter - a one-year suspended sentence.


The legislation in effect in France, the law to "let die," is widely practised in Europe, albeit with slight variations.


In European countries, save for Greece and Poland, the law recognises a patient's right to refuse treatment, even - as happens in Germany - the right to stop respirators and tube-feeding at the demand of the patient or those closest to them.


Towards a European legislation for euthanasia


Only two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, have legalised euthanasia, by way of laws enacted in 2001 and 2002. Luxembourg is readying to pass a similar law. In both countries, the practice of euthanasia is strictly controlled. A principle of "meticulous criteria" is imposed on all doctors helping sick people to die. To make the practice legal, the doctors must ensure that the patient is suffering "unacceptably,", that there is no chance they can survive the illness and that they have a desire to die. It is the responsibility of regional commissions to ensure that these conditions are adhered to.


Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark are have adopted laws authorising medically assisted suicide. The Spanish government is studying its options and aims to vote on a law in 2011.


Outside of Europe, in the American state of Oregon, a text legalising medically assisted suicide - a law to authorise "death with dignity" - was adopted in 1997. Under certain conditions, doctors can provide patients in the final stages of life with fatal doses of drugs that they can administer themselves. A similar text was adopted in Washington State in November 2008.

Date created : 2008-12-03