Francois Fillon 

After a passionate debate the French Senate
has scuppered a bill allowing physician-assisted suicide. The margin was
convincing – 170 to 142.

The opposition of the prime minister,
François Fillon, seems to have been an important element in the result. In an
article in Le Monde
in late January, Mr Fillon warned against haste in a
thoughtful speech (poorly translated in great haste by the editor):

“This scheme does not offer the necessary guarantees. The proliferation
of definitions of the end of life and procedures introduces ambiguities and
sources of legal uncertainty. The implementation of the act of euthanasia is
itself surrounded by conditions that are imprecise. The proposed legislation
provides no explicit obligation to consult with or even to inform the patient’s

“Most importantly, such a scheme seems to be very dangerous. In the
proposed legislation, control of actions would be made after the fact by a
committee. Such a mechanism would certainly create a diversity of practices
from one region or territory to another. While it is dangerous for the rights
of people at the end of life, this scheme would also affect caregivers. They would
find themselves, in effect, alone and facing the uncertain possibility of a severe
punishment. The National Council of the Medical Association has also expressed
its rejection of this bill.

“Faced with these serious risks, we have to show a sense of responsibility.
On a subject that touches the deepest meaning of the desire to live or will to die,
nothing can be barred from debate. On the contrary, the debate on the end of
life is a political debate – political in the noblest sense of the word.
Personally, I am against the legalization of active assistance to die; this is
not my idea of respect for human life and for the values that undergird our
society. But I also know that the issue of suffering in end of life is complex
and can not be reduced to a few simple ideas. It is not a matter of anathematising
each other or wringing one’s hands over others’ positions or taboos. We need to
talk and listen respectfully to each other’s arguments. But one way must be forbidden:

“On issues so deep, with such wide-ranging ethical, medical and social
consequences , it is not the polls or moods of the moment that must guide us. This
is a matter of life and death. This is the meaning of those last moments,
deeply human moments, even when the hope of a cure is gone…

“We must tackle these issues with the seriousness they demand. The
National Survey on End of Life Issues, created in February 2010, aims to
increase knowledge about the conditions of the end of life and medical practices
related thereto. Its work will focus particularly on the lessons from foreign
experiences. They must also be carefully analysed. Since 2002, Belgium recorded
a growth in the number of euthanasia cases from 24 to 822 in 2009. Everyone
must weigh the risks involved when deciding whether to adopt in France a scheme
that would be less precise and circumscribed than the one which currently
exists in Belgium…

“Rather than legislate in haste, rather than set to work without prudence
and without delay, we must continue to strengthen palliative care in France, carefully
implement the development program for palliative care and deepen the debate on
end of life support. This debate could take place in the coming months as part
of the National Survey on End of Life issues. This is the best way to respond
to the important and difficult debate about the end of life.

For those who can read French, the Académie nationale de médecine also issued a strong statement rejecting the proposed legislation which is well worth reading. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.