Bioethics Blogs

More French Paradoxes

Death is hard to deal with anywhere, but France has some contradictory ways of providing end-of-life care, as two recent articles discuss.

On the lighter side, Agence France-Presse reports on a novel service that one French hospital will launch next month to improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients: a wine bar in the palliative care center, which will also stock champagne, whisky, and beer. The hope is that it will “cheer up the difficult day-to-day existence of patients,” the head of palliative care told the news service.

On the darker side, France is grappling with what to do when patients can no longer benefit from wine, champagne, or more medical forms of palliative care. While France has resisted proposals to legalize physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, doctors nonetheless resort to these practices regularly–thus far without legal consequences, according to a recent article in the New York Times, which has received surprisingly little attention on social media but prompted conversation here at The Hastings Center. 

“As nations across Europe have legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide in recent years, French lawmakers have publicly refused to do the same, often citing fears of misuse,” the article says. “Yet by empowering doctors with broad, discretionary end-of-life rights, France has in effect quietly authorized the practice of euthanasia, doctors and officials acknowledge.” These practices “account for an estimated 3 percent of total deaths, or about 17,000 each year.”

The French have long accepted a hefty dose of paternalism from their doctors–“Never have fears of ‘death panels’ become a matter of public debate, as they have in the United States,” the Times article says.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.