French MPs propose law to ease end-of-life suffering

French lawmakers unveiled proposals on Friday for a bill that would allow doctors to plunge terminally-ill patients into a deep sleep until they die, reviving the deeply divisive end-of-life debate.

Paris: French lawmakers unveiled proposals on Friday for a bill that would allow doctors to plunge terminally-ill patients into a deep sleep until they die, reviving the deeply divisive end-of-life debate.

The bill would also make "living wills" -- drafted by people who do not want to be kept alive artificially if they are too ill to decide -- legally binding on doctors rather than merely consultative as they are now.

Euthanasia is illegal in France but Francois Hollande pledged in his 2012 presidential campaign to look into an issue that divides a country where heart-wrenching end-of-life stories continue to make headlines.

"The French are concerned and are calling out," lawmakers Alain Claeys and Jean Leonetti -- tasked by the prime minister to look into the issue -- said in a report.

"In polls and during public debates, they have expressed a desire to see their will respected where the end of their life is concerned and a desire to be accompanied until their death."

The proposals immediately sparked a wave of indignation from anti- and pro-euthanasia groups alike, the former criticising them as excessive and the latter saying they did not go far enough.A 2005 French law already legalises passive euthanasia, where treatment that is necessary to maintain life is withheld or withdrawn.

But the proposals go a step further, allowing doctors to couple this with "deep and continuous sedation" for terminally-ill patients who are conscious and whose treatment is not working, or for those who decide to stop taking medication.

This type of sedation can also be used on patients who are not able to make decisions, in certain circumstances.

The debate on euthanasia regularly opposes those who say the sanctity of life must be respected at all costs and those who believe terminally-ill patients who suffer unbearable pain must be allowed to die.

On Friday, Tugdual Derville, spokesman for a major French anti-euthanasia group, slammed the sedation proposal, labelling it as "euthanasia masked behind the words `terminal sedation until death`."

But others were disappointed that the proposals did not touch on assisted suicide, a practice that allows a doctor to provide a patient with all the necessary lethal substances to end their life but lets them carry out the final act.

"We were not expecting much from Leonetti and we were not disappointed," tweeted Jean-Luc Romero, head of the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity.Hollande said Friday that a parliamentary debate on the issue would be held in January.

Several particularly poignant stories have shaken France over the years, including the case of Vincent Lambert -- a quadriplegic with severe brain damage since a road accident in 2008 -- which has torn his family apart.

Doctors treating him, his wife, nephew and six of his eight siblings want to cut off intravenous food and water supplies, but his deeply religious Catholic parents, one brother and one sister oppose this.

The case has gone from court to court, and the last ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in June ordered France to keep him on life-support.

In another example, two couples in their 80s committed suicide in Paris in November 2013 and left notes explaining their acts.

One of the couples took their lives in the luxury Le Lutetia hotel, having asphyxiated themselves after putting plastic bags on their heads.

They had ordered room service in the morning and were found by staff, lying hand-in-hand, with a typewritten note claiming "the right to die with dignity".

And in December last year, Sandrine Rousseau, spokeswoman for the green EELV party, published a letter on her blog describing how she and her father watched for nine hours while her mother slowly died after taking a lot of pills.

"She did not commit suicide for fun, she did it because she knew that no one would cut short her suffering, at least not enough to die with dignity," she wrote.

"But her agony was long. Nine hours to endure suffering that was not medically supervised."

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