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Panel favors assisted suicide

December 16, 2013

A French public panel has recommended making voluntary euthanasia legal. The panel's endorsement comes amid a growing debate on the subject and widespread public support for assisted suicide in terminal cases.

Medications used in euthanasia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The panel, which was set up at the request of President Francois Hollande, on Monday said it recommended voluntary euthanasia in cases of terminal illness, provided the person in question was of sound mind when requesting to die.

"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 pahtology, based first and foremost on their lucid consent and complete awareness."

The so-called "Conference of Citizens," consisting of 18 people picked by polling firm Ifop as representatives of the population, said at least two doctors would have to vouch for a patient's lucidity of mind.

Assisted suicide allows a doctor to provide a patient with the necessary substances to end their life, with the patient carrying out the final act.

The panel also said it was in favor of euthanasia - when doctors administer lethal doses of medicine themselves - in very specific circumstances, such as when patients are not able to give their direct consent. However, it ruled out legalizing the practice as a whole.

In addition, it called for more palliative care in France, where it said only 20 per cent of people in need of such care have access to it.

Prominent issue

Hollande promised during his 2012 presidential campaign to examine the question of euthanasia, and promised in July to hold a national debate with a view to submitting a bill on the issue to parliament.

At the time, the national ethics committee advised him not to let doctors aid the terminally ill to take their own lives.

The current law in France allows doctors only to stop prolonging life artificially if terminally ill patients request it.

Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland allow voluntary euthanasia in some form. Belgium's Senate last week voted to extend the country's euthanasia law to include children who are terminally ill, with the lower house yet to vote on the bill.

France has seen increased debate on the issue of euthanasia after the suicides of two elderly couples in November. One of the couples left a handwritten note saying they claimed "the right to die with dignity."

Polls have shown widespread support among the French public for legalized euthanasia in late terminal cases. Hospital staff who have been convicted of assisting terminally ill patients to die in recent years have often received lenient sentences in view of this.

tj/msh (Reuters, AFP)