French President Emmanuel Macron attends a conference on the end-of-life, after a panel of citizens worked on the issue in recent months, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France April 3, 2023. OSV News photo/Aurelien Morissard, Pool via Reuters

Euthanasia bill in France may be 'the marker of the end of a society influenced by Christianity,' expert says

By  Caroline de Sury, OSV News
  • May 29, 2024

French deputies began to work on the proposed "end of life" bill May 27, which, as it now stands, promises to be extremely permissive regarding euthanasia and medically assisted suicide.

From May 13 to 17, a special commission made up of 71 parliamentarians worked to propose over 3,000 amendments to the government bill. As presented to the entire parliamentary assembly on May 27, the bill would be even more flexible than the laws already in force in Canada or Belgium -- the latter considered the world's most liberal law on physician-assisted suicide, which is not just for the terminally ill. Patients with psychiatric conditions -- even children -- can request euthanasia in Belgium.

Earlier in April, 80 healthcare professionals, philosophers, representatives of religious denominations and associations addressed the deputies of the parliamentary commission, Catholic bishops among them.

Archbishop Pierre d'Ornellas of Rennes and Archbishop Vincent Jordy of Tours, who is the vice president of the French bishops' conference, expressed their strong disagreement with the bill, which paves the way for euthanasia and medically assisted suicide. "The dignity of a human society consists in accompanying life until death, not in facilitating death," the French bishops declared on April 24.

At the same time, the Christian point of view may get little attention in France where, according to opinion polls, 90% of citizens are in favor of "active assistance in dying." Father Bruno Saintôt, head of the Biomedical Ethics Department in Paris' Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit research institute, warned that such opinion polls may be corrupted in methodology: "You have to pay attention to the questions asked by polls," he told OSV News.

"If people are asked whether they would like to be able to shorten their lives in the event of suffering deemed unbearable, the question is bound to elicit a positive response," Father Saintôt, who is also an expert in this field for the French bishops' conference, said."

The terms 'euthanasia' and 'assisted suicide' are not mentioned in the government's bill, even though they are central to it," Father Saintôt pointed out. "It is a serious matter to want to numb consciences in this way!"

In France, the bill is widely referred to as focusing on "end of life" or "aid in dying," rather than "assisted suicide" or "euthanasia," Le Monde reported May 27.

For Father Saintôt, the discussed bill can be seen as "the marker of the end of a society influenced by Christianity."

"There has been a gradual evolution of society to the point where the major prohibition of provoking a patient's death, at his or her request, is no longer widely disapproved of," he said, adding that "today, causing the death of an embryo or the death of a suffering patient are no longer fundamental ethical benchmarks."

In 2016, the bill known as the Claeys-Leonetti law introduced the right to deep and continuous sedation and forbade euthanasia for end-of-life patients. Catholic experts, and several French caregivers, believe it is important not to go beyond this. The urgent need is to improve access to palliative care, the bishops appealed in March when French President Emmanuel Macron started a debate on the new "end of life" bill dubbing it a "law of fraternity."

Another law passed in 1999 stipulates that palliative care must be accessible to all. "But in practice, this is not the case. Successive governments have failed to make this right to palliative care effective," Father Saintôt explained.

"Today, there is a serious shortage of people qualified in palliative care, because of a lack of consideration for this medical specialty, and a lack of funding. Establishments and services for the elderly are struggling to meet people's needs. Over 80% of them are understaffed!" he said."

The new law facilitating access to death will considerably weaken palliative care," Father Saintôt stressed. "Active assistance in dying will appear as the solution to the shortcomings of palliative care. It will be easier, less costly and will become the norm," the bioethics expert said, pointing to the brutal truth that euthanasia is simply cheaper.

"The question of the cost of caring for the elderly plays an important role," Father Saintôt told OSV News. "Under the guise of freedom, 'active assistance in dying' will be a utilitarian measure," he said."

The primacy of individual freedom has become the new dogma," Father Saintôt concluded. "But it will not hold for long if the historic fabric of solidarity disintegrates, as we can see today with the difficulty of recruiting nursing staff, who are at the service of the common good."

The National Assembly will dedicate two weeks of discussions to the first reading of the bill, with the vote scheduled for June 11, before the legislation is sent to the Senate -- the upper house of the parliament -- in the fall.

The political parties have not given any voting instructions, leaving each deputy free to vote according to his or her conscience.

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