France opens the door to medically-assisted suicide
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A report commissioned by French President François Hollande has started the ball rolling towards possible legislation that would allow for medically-assisted suicide in France.
A government-commissioned report released on Tuesday has recommended that France allow doctors to “accelerate death” for terminally-ill patients who want to end their lives.
French people overwhelmingly support medically-assisted suicide, with an October poll showing 89% in favour.
Examining the case for medically-assisted suicide was a campaign pledge made by French President François Hollande ahead of his election in May 2012.
Hollande pledged to act on the recommendations of the government-commissioned report, which will be referred to a national council on medical ethics that will examine the precise circumstances under which doctors can assist in ending a patient’s life.
Draft legislation could be produced in France as early as June 2013.
“The existing legislation does not meet the legitimate concerns expressed by people who are gravely and incurably ill,” Hollande told reporters on Tuesday, referring to a 2005 law that allows doctors to “leave patients to die”.
The new report was produced by senior medical professor Doctor Didier Sicard, who was scathing of doctors’ reluctance to apply existing laws.
Sicard said that most of the terminally ill patients and their families he had interviewed were dissatisfied with the medical profession, accusing them of having a “cure at all costs” culture that was “deaf to the psychological distress of patients and of their wishes”.
He said he favoured amending the 2005 law to broaden the circumstances in which doctors can help the terminally ill die, while stressing that he did not support any legislation that would “suddenly and prematurely end life” and that he “radically opposed inscribing euthanasia into law”.
Sicard also stressed that he was not advocating Swiss-style clinics where people are provided with lethal medication to enable them to end their own lives.
Three scenarios for assisted suicide
Sicard recommends that doctors should be given the authority to green-light an “acceleration of death” under three circumstances.
The firstly scenario would be when the patients concerned are able to make a request explicitly, or that instructions had been given in advance before their situation had deteriorated leaving them unable to give instructions.
Secondly, doctors could withdraw life-supporting treatment or nourishment when requested by the patient’s family and when the patient is considered unconscious.
Lastly, doctors would be able to withdraw treatment when it is merely keeping a body alive in a vegetative state.