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The Assembly debates on euthanasia, but fails to come to a conclusion – Towards a right to euthanasia?


“Ultimate freedom” against “ethical break”: the National Assembly debated on Thursday about euthanasia in a controversial atmosphere, but without succeeding, despite broad support, to vote on a complete text for lack of time in the face of thousands of amendments.

The debate ended shortly after midnight, a rule for days reserved for parliamentary groups to present their own texts. The examination of the bill opening a right to “a free and chosen end of life” of the deputy Olivier Falorni, of the Libertés et Territoires group, has not escaped it: with more than 3,000 amendments mostly intended for to counter it, the work did not go beyond article 1.

Bertrand Pancher, boss of this opposition group, pleaded for this proposal supported by a large number of elected officials, especially in the majority, “to be taken up by the government” to lead to a law.

“Strong message”

In the absence of a final ballot in the allotted time, the text received a broad de facto endorsement during the vote – 240 votes in favor, 48 against and 13 abstentions – at the end of the evening of an amendment by Guillaume Chiche (ex-LREM , not listed) which took up central points on “medical assistance in dying” or the conscience clause for doctors.

Olivier Falorni welcomed a “strong message”, even if “the obstruction does not allow to go to the end of the text”.

The deputy for Charente-Maritime was greeted in the hemicycle by a thunderous applause from his supporters, present on all the benches. The French “are an immense majority to be favorable to the right to euthanasia”, an “ultimate freedom”, he launched.

He criticized the thousands of amendments to his text, symbolically stacked in front of him, aimed at “preventing the Assembly from voting” on the entire proposal within the time limit.

This is perhaps one of the most serious subjects of our mandate.

The Minister of Health Olivier Véran, on the other hand, declared himself personally “not convinced that this major debate should be opened today”, citing in particular the heavy context of the covid-19 pandemic.

“The debate deserves to take place, there is no doubt” but it “needs time” on such a “sensitive” subject, said Olivier Véran. However, he promised better enforcement of the current law, known as Claeys-Leonetti, which provides for deep and continuous sedation that can lead to death, but without active euthanasia.

Divisions on this painful and passionate subject have crossed all political groups. “It is perhaps one of the most serious subjects of our mandate”, underlined Marc Le Fur (LR). In the majority, Agnès Firmin-Le Bodo (Agir group) pleaded for “the freedom to choose our death and to supervise it”, a position taken up by many elected in the majority as well as the opposition.

Long guerrilla war of LR deputies

But faced with the mobilization of supporters of euthanasia, “doubts are also widely shared on these benches”, underlined Aurore Bergé (LREM). Doubts also expressed by the communist Pierre Dharréville in the face of an “ethical break”. Much applauded, Anne Genetet, another LREM, recalled as a doctor that her Hippocratic oath “says that I will never give death voluntarily”.

The text aimed to open the right to “active medical assistance in dying” for any adult, in advanced or terminal phase of a “serious and incurable” disease.

Among his supporters, the presidents of four parliamentary groups: Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI), Valérie Rabault (PS), Olivier Becht (Agir) and Bertrand Pancher (Freedoms and territories). Some 2,300 amendments came from a handful of LR deputies, who led a long guerrilla war making any possibility of a final vote before midnight illusory. Among them Xavier Breton denounced “an aid to suicide” and the “transgression of a prohibition”

No commitment from Macron in 2017 on this subject

An “obstruction” denounced loudly by supporters of Olivier Falorni, to which these opponents respond with the “imprescriptible right” to table amendments. The president of the Commission of Social Affairs Fadila Khattabi (LREM) deplored that the exchanges are in fact “censored by some parliamentarians opposed to the subject of the end of life”.

Famous voices had been raised in recent days in both camps: the actress Line Renaud to support “essential progress”, the writer Michel Houellebecq to believe that with this law, France would lose “all right to respect”.

Supporters of the text stress that active euthanasia with medical assistance is already permitted in Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and that Spain and Portugal have just legislated in its favor. Emmanuel Macron had not made a commitment in 2017 on this subject, other than indicating that he would personally prefer to choose his end of life.

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