French parliament debates 'deep sleep' bill for end of life

Mon Mar 9, 2015 7:23am EDT
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By Nicholas Vinocur and Pauline Mevel

PARIS (Reuters) - France's parliament will debate a bill on Tuesday allowing patients on the brink of death to stop treatment and enter a "deep sleep" until they die, a move some critics say amounts to euthanasia in disguise.

If passed, the legislation would give dying patients in the secular but traditionally Catholic country more power over their own treatment. It would also bolster Socialist President Francois Hollande's image as a social reformer after a hotly contested move to legalize gay marriage in 2012.

Jean Leonetti, a center-right lawmaker and doctor who authored the law, told Reuters the bill would allow patients with "hours or days to live" to request to be placed under general anesthetic right through to the moment they die.

"The patient has to be at the end of their life and suffering despite the treatment given," Leonetti said.

"When these elements are present, I (the doctor) am obliged to start sedation that is deep and continues until death."

Such a request would effectively let patients set their own death in motion, as the state of deep sleep is irreversible. But proponents say it stops short of assisted suicide and differs from euthanasia in that the time of death cannot be determined.

Currently, doctors in France can suspend treatment under some circumstances for patients who ask for it, provided they provide palliative care to reduce suffering, similar to other European countries.

In Europe only Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland allow euthanasia, with doctors actively assisting patients seeking death. In the United States, Oregon, Washington and Vermont allow doctor-assisted suicide.   Continued...

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 near Paris March 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer