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French parliament passes law granting ‘right to die’

The French parliament adopted early Wednesday a law that would grant terminally ill patients the “right to die” by allowing them to put a stop to medical treatment, but did not legalize mercy killing.

The text stipulates that medical treatment should not entail “unreasonable efforts”, and that a terminally ill patient can decide “to limit or stop all treatment”.

The law on “end-of-life” care also allows doctors to administer pain-killers to patients who have opted to end therapeutic treatment, even if such drugs would hasten death.

In the early hours of Wednesday, France’s upper-house Senate passed the “right to die” bill, which had already been approved by the lower-house National Assembly.

The debate in France over euthanasia came to the forefront in September 2003 following the death of Vincent Humbert, a 22-year-old fireman who was left blind, mute and paralyzed after a road accident in 2000.

His mother Marie, who with her son had campaigned in vain for his right to die, administered an overdose of sedatives to her son, who lapsed into a coma. His doctors switched off his life support system two days later.

The issue again made headlines last month with the case of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged American who died after doctors removed her feeding tube, after 15 years in what doctors called a “persistent vegetative state”.

Some left-wing senators had wanted the bill to allow “active assistance” to those wishing to die, but Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, a cardiologist by training, said: “As long as I am health minister, I will reject euthanasia.”

Euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands and in Belgium. In Switzerland, a doctor can offer passive assistance to a terminally ill person by prescribing a fatal dose of a drug, but actively helping someone to die, as by giving a fatal injection, is illegal.

Euthanasia remains illegal in several European countries like Britain and Italy.