French euthanasia bill faces strong Catholic opposition


French lawmakers are debating a new “end of life” bill which proposes extensive measures for euthanasia and medically assisted suicide, sparking strong opposition from Catholic leaders.

The bill, introduced on 27 May, is set to be more permissive than existing laws in Canada and Belgium.

A commission of 71 parliamentarians reviewed over 3,000 amendments in May before presenting the bill.

Controversially, the bill allows euthanasia for patients with psychiatric conditions and even children. This is similar to Belgium’s liberal laws on physician-assisted suicide.

Catholic leaders have voiced strong opposition. Archbishop Pierre d’Ornellas of Rennes and Archbishop Vincent Jordy of Tours, vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, condemned the bill.

“The dignity of a human society consists in accompanying life until death, not in facilitating death” the French bishops declared.

Despite the strong Catholic opposition, public opinion in France seems largely supportive. Polls suggest that 90% of citizens favour “active assistance in dying”.

End of Christian influence in France

However Father Bruno Saintôt, head of the Biomedical Ethics Department at Paris’ Centre Sèvres, cautioned that poll questions might be leading and influencing responses towards favouring euthanasia.

“If people are asked whether they would like to be able to shorten their lives in the event of suffering deemed unbearable, the question is bound to elicit a positive response” said Father Saintôt, who is also an expert in this field for the French bishops’ conference.

“The terms ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted suicide’ are not mentioned in the government’s bill even though they are central to it” Father Saintôt pointed out. “It is a serious matter to want to numb consciences in this way!”

For Father Saintôt, the bill is “the marker of the end of a society influenced by Christianity”.

French President Emmanuel Macron initiated the debate on the bill which he dubbed a “law of fraternity”.

Nonetheless, Catholic leaders and several caregivers emphasise the importance of upholding ethical standards and the need for better palliative care.

“The new law facilitating access to death will considerably weaken palliative care” Father Saintôt stressed. “Active assistance in dying will appear as the solution to the shortcomings of palliative care. It will be easier, less costly and will become the norm” the bioethics expert said, pointing to the brutal truth that euthanasia is simply cheaper.

The National Assembly is set for two weeks of discussions on the bill, with a vote scheduled for 11 June. If passed, the bill will move to the Senate in the autumn. Political parties have left the vote to individual deputies’ consciences, reflecting the bill’s contentious nature.


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