French President Emmanuel Macron has launched a national debate that will explore the possibility of legalising euthanasia.
The debate aims to broaden end-of-life options and potentially amend French law by the end of next year.
It comes after the country’s National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) ruled that “active assistance in dying” could be applied in France “under certain strict conditions”.
Under the current 2016 law, French doctors can keep terminally ill patients sedated until death but assisted suicide is not legal.
Terminally-ill patients can request to be kept in a “deep, continuous sedation altering consciousness until death”, only if their condition is causing them “great suffering” and is likely to lead to a quick death.
Doctors are allowed to stop life-sustaining treatments, including artificial hydration and nutrition. Sedation and painkillers are allowed “even if they may shorten the person’s life”.
But some French patients have travelled to other European countries to seek further options to end their life.
During his campaign for re-election, Macron had promised to open the euthanasia debate. Recent French polls show a broad majority also support the move, while opposition lawmakers say France “must not go beyond” the current law.
A body composed of citizens will now work on the issue in the coming months in coordination with health care workers, while local debates will be organised in French regions.
The national government will in parallel hold discussions with lawmakers from all political parties in order to find the broadest consensus.
“The necessary time will be taken, and all guarantees must be given to ensure the conditions for an orderly, serene and enlightened debate,” the Elysée said in a statement.
The French citizens’ body will deliver its conclusions on legalising euthanasia in March 2023, which could lead to a vote in parliament or even a referendum.
Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain under certain conditions. In Switzerland, assisted suicide is allowed where the patient takes a lethal dose of drugs themselves.