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French MPs debate allowing deep sedation for terminally ill

Jean Leonetti of the right-wing UMP, who drew up the bill with Socialist Alain Claeys, defends it in parliament on 10 March
Jean Leonetti of the right-wing UMP, who drew up the bill with Socialist Alain Claeys, defends it in parliament on 10 March AFP
3 min

The French National Assembly has begun debating a bipartisan bill which aims to allow chronically ill patients to stop their treatment and be put into a deep sleep. If adopted, the new law would permit terminally ill patients the right to be placed under a general anaesthetic until the moment of death and allow them to decide when they die.


But, as in most of Europe, medically assisted suicide is still illegal in France and opponents say the move might pave the way for the legalisation of euthanasia.

Pro-euthanasia campaigners, on the other hand, say the bill does not go far enough.

President François Hollande says he has no plans to legalise assisted suicide during his mandate, despite promising to do so during his 2012 presidential campaign.

Catherine, whose son died of a brain tumour four years ago, was demonstating against the bill.

“I remember my little darling told me ‘Mom I'm so tired,’ and at the same time he was happy because it was March and it was sunny and primroses had bloomed. He said ‘life is beautiful’,” she told RFI. “You see, at the same time he told me these two things. I think it is essential that we can relieve pain but we must respect life until the end.”

Françoise Surget, who demonstrated for the “right to die with dignity” on Tuesday, lost her husband after a long illness.

“He asked me to help him to die and I couldn’t because it required not only giving him drugs but also for me to put a pillow over his head and press as hard as I could,” she remembers. “There, I said I can’t, I had the drugs but I couldn’t do it. 2012 and 2013 were horrible, terrible years for him and for me too. I’m speaking in terms of psychological suffering because he was aware of his condition. It would be so much simpler to have the right to simply drink something while listening to music. If someone really wants to die, what’s the problem?”

The government asked two MPs, Alain Claeys from the ruling Socialists and Jean Leonetti of the opposition UMP, to draw up the legislation in an attempt to “bypass differences”, as Prime Minister Manuel Valls put it.

But that has not prevented five religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith – signing an “urgent appeal” for the bill should not lead to allowing the right to “decide to kill someone”.

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