Bioethics News

France divided over deep sleep bill

France’s parliament is set to debate a ‘deep sleep’ bill, which if passed will allow terminally ill patients to be put into an irreversible comatose state and have life sustaining treatment withdrawn.

The bill, proposed by centre right politician Jean Leonetti, aims to give patients with ‘hours or days to live’ the right to be placed under general anesthetic until 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.”

The sedation provided would be titrated such that there would be no chance of the patient regaining consciousness. Life sustaining treatment – such as artificial nutrition and hydration – may also be withdrawn.

Pro-life groups have criticised the proposed legislation, claiming it would authorize a passive form of euthanasia.  

In an open letter published in Le Monde on Monday, leaders from France’s three major monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, described the bill as a threat to human dignity:  

“We are launching a joint appeal, anxious and pressing, that this possible new law will not in any way violate this basic principle: all human life must be respected particularly at the moment when it is most fragile”.

But pro-euthanasia advocates believe the bill does not go far enough. “Everyone says there is no suffering but nobody has ever been in that position [near death],” said Jean-Luc Romero, head of the Right to Die in Dignity association.

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.