France appears set to to legalise assisted suicide, but will delay the presentation of its new end-of-life bill until after Pope Francis visits Marseille on 22-23 September.
Originally planned for early this month, the bill is due to include “active aid to die”. Exact details have not yet been revealed, but the long debate about end-of-life care suggests this will allow people to help others end their lives.
Due to Church opposition to any kind of assisted death, the government apparently deemed it better to delay revealing these details until after the Pope closes a meeting of bishops from the Mediterranean region in Marseille and celebrates a public Mass there.
Pressure to liberalise end-of-life care in France has mounted ever since Belgium and the Netherlands legalised assisted suicide in 2002.
Since then, France’s other continental neighbours have liberalised their laws. Switzerland even allows non-resident foreigners to be helped to die.
Opinion polls show a majority in France favouring some narrowly defined aid to end one’s life but the present law allows “deep sedation” at most to numb pain before death. Opponents say the options of palliative care for the dying are little known and underused.
The details of the bill will be crucial. It will most likely permit assisted suicide – patients taking lethal treatment themselves – rather than euthanasia administered by someone else.
How, when and how often patients express the will to die, whether they must be incurably close to death and who determines this will also be closely scrutinised.
Critics often cite the Dutch and Belgian examples as a “slippery slope” they want to avoid. Their strictly-limited liberalisation laws have slowly expanded to the point that even distressed teenagers can sometimes request legal death.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has close ties to the Pope, will greet Francis on arrival and then leave. The pontiff emphasised last month that he was “going to Marseille but not to France”.