French President Emmanuel Macron will convene ministers next week to draft assisted dying legislation before it is debated and voted on by the French assembly. Humanists UK welcomes this development and hopes politicians in the UK will look to our close neighbour which is moving positively forward on this important right of choice.
This development comes as part of France’s ongoing commitment to address the complex and sensitive issue of assisted dying, with a focus on promoting compassion, individual autonomy, and ethical considerations.
What has France done right on assisted dying?
The French end-of-life debate has been positive, holistic and looks to be moving steadily in the right direction. Here are three ways in which we think France has taken an incredibly positive approach.
The Citizens’ Jury
One commendable aspect of France’s approach to assisted dying is the incorporation of a Citizens’ Jury. By involving a diverse group of citizens in the decision-making process, France demonstrated a commitment to inclusivity and ensuring that the perspectives of various segments of society are taken into account. The Citizens’ Jury voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalising assisted dying with 121 citizens (72%) out of 167 voting in favour.
A participant in the Assembly recently told reporters that he had never seen a debate as well-constructed and as devoid of hostility as the Citizens’ Assembly on assisted dying. We heard similar reports from Jersey in 2021, where they also held a Citizens’ Jury and overwhelmingly supported the introduction of assisted dying legislation, with 78% voting in favour.
Who will qualify for France’s assisted dying law?
According to the French media, to qualify citizens must: be at least 18 years of age, a french resident, be a victim of ‘unbearable’ or ‘unmanageable’ suffering, and have come to a ‘free, informed, and repeated choice to die’.
Making legislative time for debate
The French government has made commitments to making dedicated legislative time for debating assisted dying. Since the first announcement by the French president, there has been a commitment to properly debating and voting on this vital issue. There have been delays, the timeline was delayed by the Pope’s visit, and it is possible that further delays will happen, especially as France prepares to enshrine abortion rights in their constitution. But there has been a clear commitment to progress.
By comparison, the UK government has made no similar commitments. The Health and Social Care committee are currently finalising an inquiry into Assisted Dying but this will not directly lead to government action, despite overwhelming support from the public. Assisted dying legislation must be introduced through the Private Members’ Bill process, which is random (bills are literally drawn at random out of a box) and often there’s not enough time for a meaningful vote and for the bill to become law.
Integration with end of life care
Another positive aspect of France’s approach to assisted dying is the acknowledgement of its role within the broader spectrum of end-of-life care. The process so far has deliberately integrated assisted dying discussions with comprehensive end-of-life care. The Citizens’ Jury debated a range of issues around palliative care and the report it produced recommended many reforms and even tackled really difficult questions such as the role of private companies in providing palliative care.
This is similar to the approach Belgium took when they voted to legalise assisted dying in 2002, which led to the biggest increase in palliative care funding in its history and saw massive growth in individuals accessing palliative care. A report by Palliative Care Australia concluded that ‘in jurisdictions where assisted dying is available, the palliative care sector has further advanced’.
Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:
‘France has demonstrated a positive and democratic way forward and Westminster could learn a lot from the French approach; assisted dying legislation in the UK Parliament has been continuously stuck in a loop of Private Members’ Bills without enough time for a meaningful vote.
‘People in the UK deserve the same right to make choices about the end of their lives and there is no good reason to force anyone to live in pain, misery, and indignity after they have made a choice to end their suffering. We hope the current inquiry into assisted dying can learn from the democratic process in France.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell at email@example.com or phone 07456 200033.
If you have been affected by the current assisted dying legislation, and want to use your story to support a change in the law, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.
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