PARIS (AP) — New legislation to be drafted this year will address end-of-life options, French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday, following the release of a report indicating that most French citizens support legalizing medically assisted suicide and euthanasia.
In a speech at the Elysee presidential palace, Macron vowed to “move forward toward a French model regarding end-of-life options.”
Macron’s move follows a report released Sunday indicating that a large majority from among a panel composed of 184 randomly selected citizens support “active assistance in dying.” The report concluded that French law is currently “not adapted” to end-of-life issues and must evolve. It offers different options involving legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Medically assisted suicide involves patients taking, of their own free will, a lethal drink or medication that has been prescribed by a doctor to those who meet certain criteria. Euthanasia involves doctors or other health practitioners giving patients who meet certain criteria a lethal injection at their own request.
Macron said the panel’s conclusions will be incorporated in the bill to be drawn up jointly by the government and legislators “by the end of the summer.”
He did not provide details about what options the bill will allow, but insisted that strict conditions would be set with any change. They include guaranteeing free and informed consent and making sure that measures are restricted to patients suffering from incurable illness associated with physical and emotional suffering.
Macron suggested any changes would exclude cases involving terminally ill children, since the panel of citizens did not reach a conclusion on the issue.
He also vowed to improve access for all terminally ill patients to end-of-life care in line with the citizens’ report which pointed to major disparities between regions, including some that had no specialized units.
“I want we draw up a ten-year national plan to treat pain and ensure palliative care with the needed investments,” Macron said.
A 2016 French law provides that doctors can keep terminally ill patients sedated before death but stops short of allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Some French patients travel to other European countries to seek further options. Assisted suicide is allowed in neighboring Switzerland. Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain under certain conditions.
French polls in recent years steadily showed a broad majority of people are in favor of legalizing similar measures.
The current law allows patients to request “deep, continuous sedation altering consciousness until death” but only when their conditions are likely to lead to a quick death. Doctors are allowed to stop life-sustaining treatments, including artificial hydration and nutrition. Sedation and painkillers are allowed “even if they may shorten the person’s life.”
Patients can be medicated until they die of their illness naturally or until they starve. But some doctors say it may be more humane to euthanize.