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Doctors’ associations in France have welcomed a report by a parliamentary committee recommending that passive euthanasia should be allowed. In a landmark report, the cross party committee of 31 deputies recommended that terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatment in certain circumstances. The committee said, however, that active euthanasia – that is, when a doctor acts deliberately to cause a patient’s death – should not be legalized.
The health minister, Douste-Blazy, said that the government was ready to accept the committee’s recommendations and give terminally ill patients a greater right in deciding whether to end their lives or not. Jean Leonetti, the committee’s chairman, told the magazine L’Express that only a “patient with a serious and incurable illness” would be allowed to ask doctors to be left to die and given only palliative treatment. [ed. This should not require legislation. This is typical end-of-life treatment. A new law would set up for the “slippery slope”.]  The committee’s report, which took 8 months to write, emphasized the importance of safeguards to prevent any abuse of passive euthanasia. Under the proposals, patients must be conscious, and make a written request. A second opinion must be obtained to ensure that the patient’s decision really is made of their own free will and is “thought through.” If the patient is not conscious, the members of his or her family must make the request.
The report also floated the idea of introducing a “testament of life” in which people could state how they wanted to be treated in “end of life” care situations. In addition, the report strongly recommended improving palliative care for elderly and sick people, including better training for doctors and nurses. The push to revise legislation to allow passive euthanasia comes after it emerged in May that 14 “assisted suicides”- both active and passive – had been carried out on patients at the Besançon Hospital between 2000 and 2001. The case emerged after doctors and nurses and trade union representatives clashed over how to treat the growing number of seriously ill patients, prompting their respective unions to lodge official complaints. [BMJ  2004;329:474 (28 August), doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7464.474-a; Jane Burgermeister; N. Valko, R.N.;]