​French legislators to debate 'deep sleep' end-of-life option

Reuters/Max Rossi
The French parliament is to start debating a bill on Tuesday which would allow terminally ill patients to stop treatment and go into a “deep and ongoing sedation” until death. Critics describe the procedure as de facto euthanasia.

Jean Leonettie, the center-right legislator and doctor who authored the bill, explained it would give patients who have “hours or days to live” the right to be placed under general anesthetic until the moment of death.

"The patient has to be at the end of their life and suffering despite the treatment given," Leonetti told Reuters.

"When these elements are present, I [the doctor] am obliged to start sedation that is deep and continues until death."

Because deep sleep is an irreversible procedure, it would technically enable patients to set their own death into motion. However, its proponents say it differs from assisted suicide because the time of death cannot be determined.

READ MORE: Euthanasia one step closer? France to debate draft law

Under the current legislation, which went into effect in 2005, French doctors can suspend treatment for patients who ask for it under some circumstances. Doctors are obligated to provide palliative care to reduce the pain and suffering of those patients. Similar laws are in effect throughout most of Europe.

However, a handful of European countries allow euthanasia – permitting doctors to actively assist patients in ending their lives. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland – as well as Oregon, Washington, and Vermont in the United States – allow doctor assisted suicide.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, French President Francois Hollande voiced support for changing the legislation and authorizing euthanasia. He has spoken publicly about the suffering endured by his own mother before her death.

In recent years, the controversial issue has resurfaced with a spate of several high-profile cases. In 2014, in a case that divided the nation, France’s top court ruled that Vincent Lambert – who had been in a deep coma following a motorcycle accident six years earlier – be allowed to die.

Last June, French doctor Nicolas Bonnemaison was acquitted of poisoning charges after assisting in the deaths of several terminally ill patients. Bonnemasison faced life in prison.