PARIS (AP) — France’s lower house of parliament has approved a bill that could let doctors keep terminally ill patients sedated until death comes but stops short of legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide.
After years of tense debate over the issue and a long journey through Parliament, the bill is now facing a final vote at the Senate later Wednesday night.
If adopted, it would allow patients to request “deep, continuous sedation altering consciousness until death” but only when their condition is likely to lead to a quick death. Doctors would be allowed to stop life-sustaining treatments, including artificial hydration and nutrition. Sedation and painkillers would be allowed “even if they may shorten the person’s life.”
The bill would also apply to patients who are unable to express their will, following a process that includes consultation with family members.
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The methods can involve medicating patients until they die naturally of their illness or until they starve. Some doctors, however, say it may be more human to euthanize.
“Everyone must be able to decide how to live the very last moments,” Socialist lawmaker Alain Claeys, co-author of the bill, said in a speech at the National Assembly. “Our text has one purpose: fighting a ‘bad dying’ that still happens too often in France.”
The other co-author of the bill, conservative party lawmaker Jean Leonetti, said the text aimed to tell the French: “At end of your life, if the suffering is unbearable, you’ll be allowed to get to sleep, soothed and serene.”
The debate over end-of-life conditions has been revived in France due to the case of Vincent Lambert, a Frenchman in a coma since a car accident eight years ago. His family is divided over whether to continue care for him.
Europe’s top human rights court ruled in June that doctors could stop treatments for him. Legal proceedings are continuing in France, however, since Lambert’s parents have asked for a legal representative to be designated.