France could legalise assisted dying under strict conditions with new 'aid in dying' law

French president Emmanuel Macron has announced new legislation to legalise "aid in dying".
French president Emmanuel Macron has announced new legislation to legalise "aid in dying". Copyright Christophe Ena/AP
By Euronews and AP
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Emmanuel Macron has announced new legislation to legalise "aid in dying" that will allow adults facing end-of-life illness to take lethal medication.

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French president Emmanuel Macron has announced new legislation to legalise "aid in dying" that will allow adults facing end-of-life illness to take lethal medication, a first in the country.

The move follows last year’s report indicating that most French citizens support legalising end-of-life options.

In an interview published Monday by French newspapers La Croix and Liberation, Macron said the new bill will be restricted to adults suffering from an incurable illness who are expected to die in the “short or middle-term” and who are suffering "intractable" physical or psychological pain.

Macron said the law will offer "a possible path, in a determined situation, with precise criteria, where the medical decision is playing its role".

He gave the example of of people with terminal cancer, some of whom until now have gone abroad to end their lives.

Only people aged 18 or above who are capable of forming their own views will be allowed to get in the process, meaning those with severe psychiatric conditions and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease won’t be eligible, Macron specified.

Patients who seek to enter the process will need to reconfirm their choice after 48 hours and they should then receive an answer from a medical team within two weeks maximum, Macron said. A doctor will then deliver a prescription, valid for three months, for the lethal medication.

Avoiding terms like euthanasia

People will be able to take the medication at home, at a nursing home, or a healthcare facility, Macron said.

If their physical condition doesn’t allow them to do it alone, they will be allowed to get help from someone of their choice or by a doctor or a nurse.

Macron said the new bill will refer to "aid in dying… because it’s simple and humane," rather than terms like euthanasia or medically assisted suicide.

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 set no date for the legislation to be applied, saying it will first need to follow a monthslong legislative process that will start in May.

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 neighbouring Switzerland as well as in Portugal. 

Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain under certain conditions.

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