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France to debate new right-to-die law in new year

French President Francois Hollande (L) stands with French deputies Alain Clayes (C) and Jean Leonetti (R) with the report for the reform of end-of-life treatment at the Elysée Palace
French President Francois Hollande (L) stands with French deputies Alain Clayes (C) and Jean Leonetti (R) with the report for the reform of end-of-life treatment at the Elysée Palace Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

France’s government is to put a statement on the right to die to parliament in January, President François Hollande announced on Friday after receiving recommendations on changing the law from two MPs.

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Although opinion polls show nine out of 10 French people in favour of voluntary euthanasia
for patients in a coma or suffering from incurable diseases, Hollande has backpedalled on his promise to legalise it during the 2012 presidential election campaign.

He fears a repeat of last year’s massive demonstrations against gay marriage because right-wing Catholic traditionalists, many of whom were involved in those protests, have launched a campaign against changes to the law on euthanasia.

The two MPs, Socialist MP Alain Claeys and Jean Leonetti a doctor and member of the mainstream-right UMP, propose a new law to replace one that was moved by Leonetti himself in 2005.

It would authorise “deep and continuous sedation” for incurable patients in serious pain who ask for it and oblige doctors to respect a patient’s prior refusal to life-prolonging treatment.

The 2005 law allows the administration of pain-killers to the point that they might “whorten life” in certain cases and Hollande on Friday argued that it was “little-known and poorly applied”.

Last month Hollande recalled the “extremely difficult” death of his mother several years ago and on Friday he insisted that patients should be “spared all suffering”.

Pro-euthanasia groups have criticised the latest proposals as too timid, while opponents say they are the first step on the slippery slope to assisted suicide.

“If a law opens the door we don’t know what will happen afterwards,” Hélène Vicard of the campaign Soulager mais pas tuer (Care don’t kill) told RFI, claiming that in some countries the right to die has been extended to children and prisoners, such as a Belgian sex offender.

“When we talk about this question, it’s not to help a kid with an unhappy love life or someone who is depressed,” replies Jean-Luc Roméro of Mourir dans la dignité ‘Die with dignity). “We’re talking about people who either have incurable illnesses or are suffering unbearable pain that can’t be relieved.”

Euthanasia is technically legal in three European countries – the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – but others, notably Switzerland, allow some assistance to people who wish to die.

The question hit the headlines in June when Doctor Nicolas Bonnemaison was acquitted in a mercy-killing case and when the parents of paraplegic Vincent Lambert blocked his wife’s wish to end treatment that kept him alive although he had been in a coma for six years.

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