A bill on the legalization of euthanasia is before a deeply divided French parliament on Thursday, with right-wing refugees planning to torpedo every vote with thousands of amendments and the government not taking sides.
If the bill were approved, France would become the fifth EU country to decriminalize assisted suicide, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.
The bill was introduced by Olivier Falorni, deputy to the parliamentary splinter group Libertes et Territoires (“Freedom and Territories”), whose handful of MPs range from center-right to center-left.
Utilizing Thursday’s National Assembly time allotted to his party, Falorni plans to fight for the bill, which he says raises “existential issues.”
The law, he claims, would end what he said was a national “hypocrisy” because French residents often traveled to Belgium or Switzerland to get help with suicide, while French doctors already secretly performed an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 acts of euthanasia each year.
Current law allows deep sedation of patients suffering from incurable diseases, but not to end their lives or help them end their own lives.
Legalization of euthanasia is supported by many deputies, including a majority of President Emmanuel Macron’s own party, the LREM.
Neither Macron nor his government has weighed in on the debate, although the president is saying in 2017: “I want to choose the end of my life myself.”
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Deputies who are hostile to euthanasia have tabled 3,000 amendments ahead of the debate, which will slow down Thursday’s negotiations so that it will be impossible to vote within the allotted time frame.
Out of a total of 2300 amendments by deputies from the center-right Les Republicains (LR), an opposition party.
Falorni told AFP that the applications amounted to “obstacles” while his former party colleague Matthieu Orphelin called the amendments “shameful” because they ensured that there was no vote on Thursday.
“We want to debate. We want to vote. Parliament’s time is here. Let’s respect it,” said 270 deputies from across the political spectrum in an article published in JDD’s Sunday papers.
Line Renaud, a much-loved singer, actress and activist, published an open letter on Saturday urging parliament to give “every woman and every man the opportunity to choose the end of his life”.
As in Spain, whose parliament last month became the latest in the EU to approve euthanasia, the Catholic Church in France is strongly opposed to euthanasia.
“The solution when a person encounters suffering is not to kill them but to relieve the pain and accompany them,” the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, told France Inter radio.
Short window for voting
While some MEPs oppose euthanasia for ethical or religious reasons, others have said the subject is too important to be addressed in just one day by the National Assembly.
If, as expected, time runs out before any vote on Thursday, another time slot must be found in Parliament’s hectic legislative schedule.
Some deputies have said the debate could be reviewed ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The issue gained new momentum in France last year from the case of the terminally ill Frenchman Alain Cocq who planned to refuse all food and medicine and live stream his death on social media.
He abandoned his original commandment after saying that the suffering became too intense.
Cocq had written to Macron in September asking for a drug that would allow him to die in peace, but the president wrote back saying it was not possible under French law.
“Your wish is to request active assistance in the event of death that is not currently permitted in our country,” Macron wrote in response.