French Bill Stops Short of Euthanasia, OK's Terminal Sedation

Image: Doctor Stephane Mercier visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse hospital in Villejuif near Paris
Doctor Stephane Mercier, Head of the palliative care unit, visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse Hospital in Villejuif.PHILIPPE WOJAZER / Reuters

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PARIS — France's lower house of Parliament approved a bill Tuesday that allows doctors to keep terminally ill patients sedated until death comes, a move sure to ignite more debate about end-of-life practices. The proposed measure passed by a vote of 436 to 34. It will now have to be considered by the Senate.

Backed by the Socialist government, the bill stops short of recommending lethal injections and avoids the terms euthanasia or assisted suicide. The measure would give people "the right to deep, continuous sedation until death" at the patient's request, but only when their condition is life-threatening in the short term. It would also force doctors in France to follow end-of-life instructions expressed by the patients themselves or written in advance, if they are no longer able to state their wishes.

All recent polls, however, have shown that a large majority of French people favor legalizing euthanasia, and French doctors themselves are divided over the terminal sedation process.

Terminal or palliative sedation doesn't actively kill patients. It involves medicating patients until they die naturally of their illnesses or until they starve. But critics say it means patients can be sedated for weeks before they die and that it may be more humane to euthanize. The French bill calls "artificial nutrition and hydration" medical treatments that could be stopped or not started at the patient's request.

IN-DEPTH

— The Associated Press

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