France must resist legalizing euthanasia

By James Schadenberg

Kevin Yuill

Kevin Yuill, who is the founder of Humanists Against Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia and an emeritas professor of American history at Sunderland University, has written a great article that was published in the Spiked on April 13 titled: “France must resist assisted dying”.

Yuill begins the article with a summary of the results and consequences of France’s “citizen’s convention”, which made recommendations on France’s proposed euthanasia framework in early April:

Last September, French president Emmanuel Macron set up a so-called citizens’ convention, comprising over 180 randomly chosen members of the public. They were tasked with answering the question: ‘Is the framework of end-of-life accompaniment adapted to the different situations encountered, or should possible changes be introduced?’ Earlier this month, they delivered their recommendation, with 76 per cent voting in favour of introducing ‘active assistance in dying’ – which could mean euthanasia or assisted suicide.

French law currently prohibits euthanasia and assisted suicide (although it has evolved to allow French residents to refuse medical treatment). But it seems that this ban could soon be overturned. Now, armed with the approval of this citizens’ convention, Macron’s government is drawing up a draft bill on end-of-life care. This will include the potential legalisation of euthanasia or assisted dying.

Yuill claims that the abysmal state of France’s palliative care system plays a role in the increased support of assisted dying legislation. However, many of France’s doctors – the ones who would be tasked with killing people approved for euthanasia – are not only opposed to legalizing euthanasia but believe that allowing doctors to kill their patients would contradict the role of healthcare workers in caring for their patients. Yuill argues that France is legislating euthanasia when their priority should be repairing its palliative care system:

Part of the reason for the increasing support for assisted dying is the parlous state of palliative care in France. Residents in 26 of France’s 101 administrative departments have no access to palliative care whatsoever. In three departments, only one palliative care bed is available for every 100,000 inhabitants. Compare that to Britain, where more than five care beds per 100,000 inhabitants are available. As French academic Anna Elsner explains, ‘If there is no large-scale availability of palliative care, the fear of a “bad death” rises’. It’s this fear, she says, that ‘fuels [the] demand for the legalisation of euthanasia’.

Not everyone is in favour of legalising assisted dying, however. The church objects. As do France’s healthcare workers. The national council of doctors, L’Ordre des Médecins, is strongly opposed to its members helping people end their lives on principle. And a collective of 13 professional associations, which together claim to represent two-thirds of medical-care workers in France, have stated that: ‘Legalising death administered in whatever medical form would turn the concept of care into its opposite.’ This raises the very real prospect of a revolt by medical staff against the legalisation of assisted dying

The French government should think very carefully before pushing ahead with its end-of-life bill. It may be cheaper for Macron to legalise assisted dying than to improve the palliative care on offer to French citizens. But this would be far from ethical.

Yuill then uses the Netherlands and Canada to show the dangerous consequences of what happens when a country allows doctors to kill their patients by euthanasia:

Moreover, the French government should look at what has happened in other nations that have legalised some form of assisted dying. What begins as an attempt to ease the suffering of those in severe physical pain often morphs into something sinister.

Take the Netherlands, where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal since 2002. With the number of euthanasia deaths increasing by about 10 per cent per year, assisted dying has evolved into something approaching a lifestyle choice. Indeed, 29 couples were euthanised together in 2022, after apparently meeting the Dutch criteria of unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement.

Then, of course, there’s Canada. Since 2015, when assisted dying was introduced, the eligibility criteria for who can access assisted suicide and euthanasia has continually expanded. And as a result, the number of people being granted a medically assisted death has ballooned, from 1,018 in 2016 to 10,064 In 2021. Assisted suicide in Canada was supposed to be a limited practice for only the most serious cases of terminal illness, but it has become an increasingly mainstream intervention in healthcare. As an article in the World Medical Journal notes: ‘[Canada] has now arguably the most wide-open state-facilitated suicide process in the world.’

Yuill is right to point out that if legalized, euthanasia will not be a rare occurrence in France. Canada and the Netherlands demonstrate that safeguards built into euthanasia legislation will soon be removed as euthanasia becomes socially acceptable. The day after this article was released, the Netherlands announced their intention to expand euthanasia to children between the ages of 1 and 12, which clearly illustrates this point.

Once a country opens up the door to death by euthanasia, that door will soon be opened wider. France should listen to their doctors, who recently stated their opposition to euthanasia, and choose the life-affirming solution by fixing its palliative care system rather than allowing doctors to kill their patients through euthanasia.

Editor’s note. This appeared on the blog of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and is reposted with permission.