After the recent final passage of the amendment to the French Constitution making abortion a constitutional right, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday that in May he will present a bill legalising medical aid in dying for terminally ill people. 

The move follows a lenghly consultation he launched in Autumn 2023 where a majority came out in favour of the  legislation, which was was part of his electoral programme during the presidential campaign of 2022.

New law would apply to terminally-ill adults

In an interview to France’s  Libérationnewspaper and to the Catholic daily La Croix , the French president  clarified that the measure would strictly apply to adults suffering from short to medium-term illnesses, such as final-stage cancer.

He detailed that the new law would allow a terminally ill person in his/her  full mental capacity, to self-administer a lethal substance or, in the case where a patient was not physically capable of that, to request that another person be designated to do so.  If medical professionals reject the request, the patient can consult another medical team or appeal, he added.

According to the proposed text, the substance can be administered at the patient’s home, in care homes for the elderly or care centres. Medical experts will have 15 days to respond to the request for help to die, and an approval will be valid for three months, during which time the patient can retract.

Its is not a “fraternity law”

The French Catholic bishops, have long advocated for strengthening palliative care, rejected the bill. “A law like this, whatever its aim, will bend our whole health system towards death as a solution,” Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims and President of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) told La Croix.

President Macron further fuelled controversy by calling the bill a “fraternity law”.

“Calling a text that opens both assisted suicide and euthanasia a ‘fraternity law’ is deceptive,” said Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort.

Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, who took part in the consultation, insisted that the text cannot be considered a fraternity law: “Fraternity passes through unconditional respect for the life of each individual”, he said.

The French bishops expressed disappointment at the fact that emphasis has been placed on helping ill people to die,  rather than relieving their suffering and providing the best possible quality of life  through palliative care.