two ministers discovering the Swiss system of assisted suicide

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In the national debate on the end of life initiated by President Macron on September 13, the “example” of European neighbors who have opted for “active assistance in dying” – euthanasia or assisted suicide – has become an essential subject. study, if not inspiration.

As of September 29, the Minister for Democratic Renewal Olivier Véran occupied this ground with a whirlwind visit to the Citadel hospital center in Liège, Belgium, a country which legalized euthanasia in 2002.

Discovering the Swiss assisted suicide system

Friday, January 27, we found him alongside his colleague, Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, minister responsible for territorial organization and the health professions, who decided, in turn, to embark on a series of “observation trips” abroad, with a first stage in Geneva, to discover the Swiss system of assisted suicide.

For the occasion, a dozen deputies and senators surround the two ministers to attend the presentation made by the Swiss authorities to the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) which are hosting the delegation for a handful of hours.

The timing being tight, Mauro Poggia, President of the Canton’s Council of State, immediately recalled the main principles which set the legal framework at the federal level. “In Switzerland, assisted suicide is not considered a right but a non-punishable act if it is not motivated by a selfish motive. It is a freedom granted to citizens. As long as the recommendations made by the Academy of Medical Sciences to regulate the practice are respected.he summarizes.

Three Criteria for Assisted Suicide

It is within this very loose legal framework that any Swiss or foreign resident – around forty French people make the trip each year – can ask a doctor, most often through an accompanying association, to prescribe the product lethal as long as he meets three criteria – being capable of discernment, expressing his wish for death freely, suffering from a life-threatening illness – and being able to perform the fatal act himself. In 2019, nearly 1,200 people resorted to assisted suicide, which represents 2% of deaths.

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“This model is based on trust, the only checks being carried out, a posteriori, by the police to ensure compliance with the procedure, which very rarely leads to prosecution”, continues Samia Hurst-Majno, doctor and bioethicist. A system which, it seems, is the subject of a broad consensus in the population and would be better and better accepted by caregivers. “A 2019 survey of 4,000 hospital doctors shows that 73% approve of the practice of assisted suicide in hospitals”underlines Professor Arnaud Perrier, medical director of the HUG.

The picture seems ideal, but the French delegation wants to be clear about it. “Is it true that an assisted suicide costs around €10,000? »launches Olivier Véran. “In Switzerland, palliative care came after assisted suicide. How do the two fit together? »asks Agnès Firmin Le Bodo.

Lots of fears to lift

The rolling fire of questions and answers continues during a working lunch around ethics and a veal steak with artichokes. “ This visit is a breath of fresh airrejoices the environmentalist senator Raymonde Poncet-Monge. It shows that palliative care and assisted dying are not opposites, as claimed by part of the French medical profession, but complementary. » Béatrice Bellamy, Horizons deputy for Vendée, seems more circumspect: “The Swiss are undoubtedly pragmatic and wise, but is this model exportable to France and is this the priority? At this point, I’m not sure of anything. »

In the minivan that brings the ministers back to the airport, they are just as cautious in their responses to the journalists who accompany them, including that of La Croix. Is assisted suicide an option? “All options are on the table, reply Olivier Véran. The Citizens’ Convention works on the subject in complete freedom. It is up to her to enlighten the government and parliamentarians”. “In France, there are still a lot of fears to be lifted. Discussion is essential, but it will go through the law., says Agnès Firmin Le Bodo. Before adding, with a smile: “If law there must be. »

Waiting for the next “French model”the Minister has already included three other countries in her programme: a compulsory passage through Belgium in February, then undoubtedly Italy, which is still hesitating between prohibition and openness, and finally Spain, the last European country to have legalized the euthanasia in 2021.

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