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French panel recommends legalising assisted suicide

A panel set up at the request of President François Hollande on Monday (December 16, 2013) recommended legalising assisted suicide in France, where the debate on euthanasia has been revived after several tragic end-of-life stories. The suicides of two elderly couples in November and the heart wrenching testimony of a politician who watched her terminally-ill mother die after taking pills have shocked and moved France, where euthanasia is illegal.

“The possibility of committing medically assisted suicide is, in our eyes, a legitimate right of a patient close to death or suffering from a terminal pathology, based first and foremost on their lucid consent and complete awareness,” said the panel, made up of 18 citizens who are “representative” of the population. The so-called “Conference of Citizens” also recommended allowing euthanasia in very specific circumstances, such as when the patient is not able to give his or her direct consent, but ruled out legalising the practice as a whole.

Assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland, allows a doctor to provide a patient with all the necessary lethal substances to end their life, but lets them carry out the final act.
Euthanasia goes a step further, and allows doctors themselves to administer the lethal doses of medicine. This practice, legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, is the most controversial.

A 2005 law in France already legalises passive euthanasia, where a person causes death by withholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary to maintain life. Hollande promised during his 2012 presidential campaign to look into legalising euthanasia, and a recent poll by research firm Ifop showed 92 percent of those questioned were in favour of euthanasia for “people afflicted with terminal and unbearable illnesses” who wanted to die.

The debate took a tragic turn last month when two couples in their 80s committed suicide in Paris and left notes explaining their acts. One of the couples took their lives in the luxury Le Lutetia hotel, having asphyxiated after putting plastic bags on their heads. They had ordered room service in the morning and were found by staff, lying hand in hand, with a typewritten note claiming “the right to die with dignity.”

And earlier this month, Sandrine Rousseau, spokeswoman for the green EELV party, published a heart wrenching letter on her blog describing how she and her father watched for nine hours while her mother slowly died after taking a lot of pills. “She did not commit suicide for fun, she did it because she knew that no one would cut short her suffering, at least not enough to die with dignity,” she wrote on December 8. “But her agony was long. Nine hours to endure suffering that was not medically supervised.”