Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

News,

France is slowly but surely moving towards assisted suicide

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

PARIS, December 18, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - France is slowly but surely moving towards an “assisted suicide” law, including provision for “exceptional euthanasia,” with the publication Monday of a report by a public panel of 18 “representative” citizens.

On the strength of the panel’s recommendations, left-wing daily Libération expects the socialist government to present a draft text by next summer, although widespread grassroots opposition earlier this year to the legalization of same-sex “marriage” might make president François Hollande wary of bringing yet another sensitive issue to the fore.

It is the President himself, however, who decided last September to have the National Advisory Ethics Committee (CCNE) assemble a representative panel of French citizens chosen by a commercial polling company, IFOP, so that it could express ordinary people’s opinions on end of life. The 18 “sages” gathered for four consecutive weekends in order to hear officially mandated experts, many of them favorable to at least one form of voluntary ending of life, including Jean-Luc Romero, president of the “Association for the right to die with dignity” (ADMD).

The recommendations of the public panel fall short of advocating legalizing euthanasia as it exists in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands. The eighteen members agree that a person’s “pathology is not equivalent to his or her identity.” “Degradation of the body removes nothing from human identity and dignity,” they state.

But they go on to pose a series of questions on liberty, the right to “be an actor of one’s own death,” the need for citizens to be informed about “seiz[ing] the question of their own death and preparing it instead of pushing the perspective away,” and of course the “cost of the end of life in France for society.” They rapidly make the point, which also governs the existent law on the end of life named after its author, Jean Leonetti, that no one should suffer in this day and age. So they affirm the “right of every patient,” insofar as medical art is now capable of alleviating pain, to obtain such alleviation.

If a right not to suffer exists, it follows that provision must be made for cases when medication is incapable of relieving pain and suffering. So not surprisingly, all of the 18 citizens explicitly recommend the legalization of assisted suicide.

“The possibility of committing suicide with medical assistance, as well as assisted suicide, constitute in our view a legitimate right of the patient who is in the end phase of his life or who is under the burden of an irreversible pathology, a right which rests mainly on his informed consent and full consciousness,” they write.

In practice, this would mean non-terminally but incurably ill patients – such as tetraplegics – should be eligible for this type of assistance, which is in fact akin to homicide.

Twelve members of the panel argue that medically assisted suicide exists “whenever the will to die has been expressed by the person,” regardless of the fact that death is administered by a third person or not. The other six preferred to define medically assisted suicide as precluding the administration of a lethal substance by a third person.

At any rate, if the panel is to be believed, 100% of French citizens would favor some sort of freely obtainable help to die, as long as that help is not an object of commerce on the market or extended by associations (such as exist in Switzerland), but exclusively given in the medical sphere.

Where clear advance directives exist, the panel adds, they should be taken into account when the patient is incapable of committing the suicidal act by his own force.

But what if obtaining direct consent from the patient is impossible? Procuring death in such a case, according to 12 members of the panel, constitutes euthanasia, while another five define euthanasia more widely as the administration by a third person of a lethal substance, which immediately causes death.

But then comes the central principle about which these “representative citizens” have no doubt whatsoever: “No one can dispose of another person’s life without his or her consent.” This implies that one may dispose of another person’s life insofar as he or she has consented to his or her own death.

This would quite easily open the door to any kind of euthanasia, but the “public panel” argues that palliative care, which should be much more widely available according to their report, and the existing measures of the “Leonetti law”, plus the legalization of assisted suicide, make its legalization pointless.

Nevertheless the panel suggests that a “euthanasia exception” should be made possible in practice when the patient is incapable of giving direct consent to assisted suicide. They recommend that local commissions be formed in order to give a collegiate opinion in these cases in order to make a decision on these individual cases. These commissions would include the medical staff in charge of the patient, his personal doctor, a doctor who is not involved in the hospital where the patient is interned and a representative of the hospital’s ethics committee.

All of this is very much in line with François Hollande’s campaign promise “Number 21” in which he stated that “every adult in an advanced or terminal phase of an incurable disease, causing unbearable physical or psychical suffering that cannot be alleviated, should be allowed to ask, in precisely and strictly defined circumstances, to obtain medical help in order to finish life with dignity.”

Ironically, though, the “euthanasia debate” is a lot further along than lawmakers and the mainstream media are willing to admit. According to the Leonetti law, willful killing of a patient is already possible through the withdrawal of feeding tubes and, to a lesser extent, of hydration. Now this is certainly not murder in the very last phases of life when administering nourishment can no longer fulfill its own function or in itself causes useless suffering, but when such withdrawal aims at obtaining death it is just as certainly euthanasia, and therefore homicidal.

The existing law is being used more and more often to obtain the death of deeply handicapped but otherwise healthy people. France’s “Terri Schiavo”, a poly-handicapped and minimally conscious young man named Vincent Lambert, is right now at the heart of a painful conflict between his doctor, Eric Kariger, who wants to put an end to his patient’s life with the consent of his wife, and his parents and several of his siblings who gained a first judicial victory against the “end of life process” this Spring.

The mainstream press has widely commented on the case, and nearly every article published blindly approve the death process: euthanasia, legal euthanasia is already a reality in France and an overwhelming majority of the French – if opinion polls are to be believed – are regularly said to be in favor of euthanasia.

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