France Approves Euthanasia Law Allowing Refusal of Treatment

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 13, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

France Approves Euthanasia Law Allowing Refusal of Treatment Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 13
, 2005

Paris, France ( — A new law in France comes just short of allowing euthanasia. The French Parliament approved a new law allowing patients to refuse lifesaving medical treatment, though it doesn’t allow doctors to engage in so-called "mercy killing."

The bill says medical treatment should not include "unreasonable efforts" and that a terminally ill patient should be able to "limit or stop all treatment."

Doctors can stop giving treatment when it "seems useless, disproportionate or has no effect other than maintaining life artificially."

The French senate approved the bill early Friday, which had already won approval from the lower house. Some 548 of the 551 members of the lower house backed the bill, with the remaining three abstaining.

The measure allows patients to request that doctors remove them from life-sustaining machines or medicines and critics call it a passive euthanasia bill by allowing doctors to halt treatment upon request.

The bill allows doctors to prescribe pain-relieving drugs, even if they could hasten the patient’s death. It also authorizes family members to end support support for unconscious relatives — which could impact patients like Terri Schiavo.

Still, the measure does not go as far as laws in the Netherlands and Belgium that permit active euthanasia under certain circumstances. Because of that, pro-life groups in France and the Catholic Church do not oppose it.

The issue of legalizing euthanasia in France was advanced when 22 year-old Vincent Humbert, a paralyzed man, took his life with his mother’s help.

Humbert’s mother allegedly injected him with a fatal dose of sedatives that placed him in a coma and doctors then agreed to cut his life support.

Though the bill received a strong vote, lawmakers in France and the nation’s top doctors group opposes active euthanasia.

Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy proposed the provision, which also prevents taking doctors to court when they grant a request for passive euthanasia.

"With this law, the end of life in France will have another face: It will be a moment of choice and no longer a moment of submission," Douste-Blazy said, according to an Associated Press report.

Douste-Blazy agreed that French citizens are not looking to legalize active euthanasia.