when intimate and complex subjects shake up the debates in the National Assembly

when intimate and complex subjects shake up the debates in the National Assembly

On a subject as intimate as the end of life, the motivations of the deputies transcend traditional divisions. Cases of conscience further accentuated by the latest version of the bill.

What do the Communist MP (PCF) Pierre Dharréville, the National Rally (RN) MP Frédéric Cabrolier, or the Les Républicains MP (LR), Justine Gruet have in common? All are opposed to the end-of-life bill, discussed in the National Assembly since May 27. The rejection of a text has rarely brought together such different political sides. It must also be said that it is unusual for a law to address subjects as intimate and technical as this one.

The sources of their deep motivation are multiple, sometimes surprising. Pierre Dharréville, deputy for Bouches-du-Rhône, was nourished by the thoughts of a Marxist philosopher, Lucien Sève. “He wondered about what the human person is, the fate we do to him, enlightens the elected official. I consider, like him, that we are going through an anthropological crisis. At the end of life, I believe that the majority of French people actually fear abandonment. What is radically outrageous is that there are so many French people who do not have access to palliative care.” For him, the urgency is to restore resources to the public hospital. His position remains very much in the minority among his group, the Democratic and Republican Left – Nupes. Almost all of its members are in favor of the law.

Intimate and complex subject

Other groups are more divided. Like Renaissance, Modem, LR or RN. Thomas Ménage, RN deputy for Loiret, rather supports the law, while Frédéric Cabrolier, deputy for Tarn, is opposed to it. The latter recognizes that forming an opinion was not easy. “I have two somewhat contradictory compasses. I place freedom above any other value: freedom of opinion, of movement – ​​I found the confinements incredible… But I am also a believer, a Catholic. Life is sacred In my opinion.” To try to consider only “the interest of society”, he met with end-of-life stakeholders in his constituency: caregivers, the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity… “It was about 'a personal approach. It is up to an MP to obtain the information to draw a vote from it.' The discussions with the doctors were decisive. They told him they did not want to be given responsibility for euthanasia. “This law risks hindering their freedom to provide care,” judges the elected official. Initially favorable to the latter, he then “totally” changed his mind. “I don't want to be one of those who will radically change our relationship with the sick. We are here to put the country back on track. It is going so badly. Values ​​are being lost, and this text touches on our values.”

Thomas Ménage confesses for his part that he discovered the issues of the debate during the hearings of the special commission of the Assembly responsible for examining the law, from April 22 to 30. “I have a fresh perspective. So I listened carefully to the interventions. I already know that I will vote with humility, without certainty of being right. There are subjects where I press the vote button without any hesitation . There I will do it with a trembling finger.” For now, he remains in favor of the law. “That people with refractory and incurable suffering request lethal sedation in an informed manner is understandable.” However, he will be vigilant about the right limit in the text: “At what point will we no longer be respectful of the person?”

MPs sometimes justify their opinion with personal stories. Environmentalist Sandrine Rousseau, in favor of the law, declared on April 24 that she had helped her seriously ill mother die. “She committed suicide and I was present. Who would I be to forbid her from doing this?” On the contrary, his PCF colleague Pierre Dharréville insists that his opinion on the subject is purely political, that no intimate experience has shaped it and he refuses to mention the slightest bit of it. “If we could spare ourselves these testimonies during the debates, it would be useful. We all have completely legitimate experiences with death which will not help us to aim for what we must seek, the general interest. We cannot not consider one's own experience as sufficient to tell the universal story.”

A mandate and emotions

Justine Gruet, LR MP for Jura, organized meetings in her constituency on the subject. “I always try to rely on the opinions of experts.” 300 people showed up. Initially opposed to the law, this professional physiotherapist evolved to listen to them. Did certain testimonies move her? Yes, she admits. “I don’t know if we can really separate things, our mandate and our emotions.” Faced with unbearable pain, she once considered assisted suicide as a solution. “But, my opinion has changed again.” Today, she will not vote in favor of the text, even if it were only to legalize assisted suicide. “I think that the legislator is there to protect the most vulnerable and the collective, and not to “liberate” the individual.”

The recent changes to the text have further increased the confusion of the deputies. Agnès Firmin-Le Bodo (Horizons), president of the special committee and author of the bill as former Minister for Health, said she was “surprised” by the modifications, which go “against the opinion of the government”. “We will be very vigilant that the balance is restored,” she said. “This predictable slide could very well continue,” analyzes Pierre Dharréville. “Water flows into the breach when it is open.” Justine Gruet also admits her surprise: “We know that the safeguards have tended to be broken in other countries. But we didn't think it would happen so quickly here…” “We are putting our finger on something that will escape us “, fears Frédéric Cabrolier. His colleague from the RN, Thomas Ménage, however, does not believe in this logic of slippage. “If we are still afraid that legislators will go further than us in the future, we might as well not vote for anything anymore. We also have the right to trust French collective intelligence.” However, he did not appreciate the new text. “If it remains like this, my favorable vote will turn into an abstention.”

The new text reworked in committee

The text debated in the Assembly since Monday has broken down a large number of safeguards in the initial bill. State of play.

  • More patients affected In the text voted on May 18 by the special commission responsible for examining the bill, the criterion according to which patients eligible for “active assistance in dying” must have their vital prognosis engaged “in the short or medium term” (a category considered vague by many doctors) has been replaced by the notion of “advanced or terminal” disease. Patients who can live for several more years (suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, for example) could therefore access assisted suicide or euthanasia.
  • “The euthanasia exception” retoked The initial text only allowed euthanasia in exceptional circumstances, in the event of the patient's physical impossibility of accessing assisted suicide. This criterion has been removed.
  • A less… collegial collegiality The principle of a peer review of the request for assisted suicide or euthanasia was maintained, but weakened. Ultimately, only one doctor could make the decision.
  • Early euthanasia It should now be possible to include a request for euthanasia in your advance directives. Furthermore, the mandatory period of 48 hours of reflection before being able to access assisted dying could exceptionally be reduced, at the patient's request.
  • A new “offense of obstructing assisted dying” Carried by France Insoumise MP Caroline Fiat, this offense could expose offenders to 1 year in prison and a €15,000 fine. On the other hand, the creation of an “offence of incitement to active assistance in dying”, proposed by MP Annie Vidal (Renaissance) was rejected.
  • An enforceable right to palliative care A patient deprived of palliative care could file an appeal with the administration concerned.
  • Contrasted reactions While the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD) welcomed the planned developments, the French Society for Support and Palliative Care (SFAP), the Conference of Bishops of France, the Protestant Federation of France rather expressed their concern.

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