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French Assembly Passes Passive Euthanasia Law
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 1, 2004

PARIS, FRANCE--In a 548-0 vote, the French National Assembly on Tuesday approved a measure to legalize "passive euthanasia", that is, removing life support so a person with a terminal illness and "no hope of survival" will die.

Debate on the law was initiated after the assisted suicide of a man who did not have a terminal illness, but instead was deaf, paralyzed and could not speak.

The "right to die" law would allow patients, families and doctors to turn off life-support machines in specific circumstances. Members of a patient's family could make the request if the patient was not conscious.

Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy emphasized that the measure would not allow doctors to perform "active euthanasia", which involves taking steps to deliberately kill a patient.

"The French are not looking to us to legalize the right to give death," Douste-Blazy told reporters.

While the law is being touted as a way to allow people with terminal or severe illnesses to "die with dignity", it and similar laws are often crafted to protect doctors from criminal and civil action. According to the International Herald Tribune, an estimated 150 000 people die in French hospitals every year as a result of decisions by medical staff to end treatment or turn off life-support systems.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will be taken up early next year.

The debate over euthanasia in France heated up after the September 26, 2003 death of Vincent Humbert, a 21-year-old fire-fighter who became paralyzed after a car accident.

Humbert, who did not have a terminal illness, had written a book asking to be allowed to die. His mother allegedly gave him a deadly overdose of sedatives --dispensed by his doctor -- which induced a coma. Humbert's doctors then removed his life support.

His mother and doctor were still under investigation as of late August.

Many disability advocacy groups oppose efforts to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. They argue that doing so would essentially make it "open season" for people with certain disabilities considered undesirable or a "burden" on society. They note that, despite safeguards, many people who die under assisted suicide and passive euthanasia laws are not in the final stages of terminal illnesses, but have disabilities or are afraid of acquiring a disability.

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