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French bishops warn against allowing euthanasia

President Emmanuel Macron's government plans to legalize euthanasia by the end of 2023

Alain Cocq, suffering from an incurable orphan disease, touches his phone in his medical bed at his home in Dijon on April 6, 2021. The French government plans to legalize euthanasia by the end of 2023

Alain Cocq, suffering from an incurable orphan disease, touches his phone in his medical bed at his home in Dijon on April 6, 2021. The French government plans to legalize euthanasia by the end of 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 28, 2022 05:17 AM GMT

Updated: September 28, 2022 05:58 AM GMT

France's Catholic bishops warned President Emmanuel Macron's government that "immoral legislation" to allow euthanasia risked overturning the country's "ethical equilibrium."

"Over decades, a balance has been found in avoiding relentless treatment and promoting palliative care -- this 'French path' has gained a following and says something about our country's ethical heritage," said the 10-member executive council of the bishops' conference.

"Our caregivers, who must face so many concrete difficulties sustaining our health system, often express how much they are attached to this balance -- it gives honor to their profession and meaning to their commitment," bishops said.

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"During the COVID-19 crisis, our society made weighty sacrifices to save lives, particularly of the most fragile, even over-isolating the sick or elderly to preserve their bodily health. How can it be possible, just a few months after this great national mobilization, that society now gives the impression of seeing no other answer to life's fragility than active help in dying and assisted suicide?" the bishops asked in a statement the weekend of Sept. 24-25.

The French government plans to legalize euthanasia by the end of 2023.

The bishops said France's National Consultative Ethics Council, which cleared the way for the proposed legislation, had also said palliative care should first be made available nationwide "before any reform."

"Listening to patients, families and palliative care actors, we see how the essential need of the greatest number is to be considered, respected, helped and accompanied -- not abandoned. Isn't actively assisted living what everyone deeply expects, rather than actively assisted dying?"

In mid-September, Macron launched a national debate on legalizing euthanasia, in line with pledges before his April reelection. He hopes to draft legislation after receiving recommendations from a Citizens' Convention next March.

Similar legislation was voted down in 2021, and French doctors can currently keep terminally ill patients sedated until death under a 2016 law, but without assisting their suicide.

If enacted, the proposed law, which has enjoyed majority support in opinion polls, would make France Europe's sixth country to allow euthanasia and assisted dying, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Spain. Parallel laws are being considered in several other countries, including Germany and Portugal.

In their statement, the bishops said "authentic democratic discernment" required listening seriously and calmly to a range of opinions, including those of different religious traditions.

"The end-of-life question is too sensitive and delicate to be dealt with under pressure," added the statement.

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