Currently, euthanasia and assisted suicide are against the law in majority-Catholic France, but on Friday the country’s president proposed a law allowing doctors to keep terminally ill patients sedated until death. Francois Hollande called for a law, AP reported, that would allow people “deep, continuous sedation until death” in circumstances where a patient requests such treatment and where their illness is life-threatening in the short term. Observers noted Hollande deftly avoided the sensitive issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia, while also stopping short of endorsing lethal injections. The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is wrong.

His recommendation of palliative or terminal sedation involves medicating patients until they die naturally of their illnesses or until they starve. Politically, it is a small step further along the euthanasia trail from the Léonetti law, which introduced the concept of the right to be "left to die." This law, unanimously passed by the parliament in 2005, allowed doctors to decide to "limit or stop any treatment that is not useful, is disproportionate or has no other object than to artificially prolong life" and to use that offered pain relief even if they might "as a side effect, shorten life," AP noted.

Doctors are divided about Hollande’s proposal. They say because this method doesn't actively kill patients, some patients may be sedated for weeks before they die. Euthanasia, they say, may be more humane.

Around The World

In the United States, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have legislation rendering physician-assisted suicide legal, while two states, Montana and New Mexico, have legal physician-assisted suicide via court rulings. In January of this year, a New Mexico state court said terminally ill residents have a constitutional right to obtain “aid in dying.” In 2013, about 300 terminally ill Americans were prescribed lethal medications, according to the Guardian, though only 230 people died as a result of taking them. Some chose not to take the medication.

Worldwide, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In Germany and Switzerland, contradictions remain, though those nations are leaning toward similar policies. While it is illegal for a doctor to actively assist in a suicide — to prescribe and give a lethal drug — under some circumstances, German and Swiss laws do permit what most would consider assisted suicide. For instance, assisted suicide is legal in Germany as long as the drug is taken without any help, such as someone supporting the patient's hand. And in Switzerland, assisted suicide is permitted as long as there are no "self-seeking motives" involved.

The case of a comatose patient, Vincent Lambert, spurred fresh debate about issues of euthanasia in France, when his wife requested doctors stop life support against his parents' wishes. The case is pending at the European Court of Human Rights.