Fulfilling a campaign pledge, French President Francois Hollande commissioned a report, now complete, which recommends doctors be permitted to “accelerate death” for the terminally ill. Draft legislation is expected by June 2013.
The report, released on Tuesday, will be sent to the France’s council on ethics, the National Order of Physicians, which will determine the circumstances under which doctor-assisted suicide will be deemed appropriate. Senior medical professor Doctor Didier Sicard, who worked on the report, recommends that the right to die should be granted to those who have made an explicit request, or, if the patient is unconscious, to those whose family requests a withdrawal of life-support; or to those in a vegetative state. Sicard notes that since 2005 it has been legal in France for doctors to administer sufficient painkillers to shorten a patient’s life. According to Sicard, many terminally ill patients and their families feel the medical profession promotes an inhumane “cure at all costs” culture that is “deaf to the psychological distress of patients and of their wishes”.
According to France 24, “French people overwhelmingly support medically-assisted suicide, with an October poll showing 89% in favour.”
Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland are currently the only other European countries to allow doctor-assisted euthanasia. However passive euthanasia, the removal of life-support, is widespread throughout the globe.
Medical science today can keep virtually any body “alive” for years, even after vital organs have ceased to function. As reported by a controversial 60 Minutes segment produced two years ago in the US, “Medicare paid $50 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of [terminally ill] patients’ lives” in one year. As Seamus Cavan and Sean Dolan, authors of Euthanasia: The Debate Over the Right to Die point out, as long as euthanasia is illegal and morally taboo, it will continue in secret, under conditions which may not be best for patient or family.
Victoria N. Alexander, PhD is the author of Naked Singularity, a novel about the moral and emotional complexity of assisted suicide.