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Following submission at the close of 2012 of the report by the French Commission for reflection on "solidarity in France at the end of life", the President of the French Republic referred three questions to the National Consultative Ethics Committee for Health and Life Sciences (CCNE):
- How and in what circumstances should advance directives expressed by persons in good health or when a serious medical condition involving the end of their life is made known to them, be recorded and applied?
- According to what procedures and strict conditions should conscious and autonomous patients suffering from a serious and incurable disease, be authorised to obtain support and assistance in their decision to put an end to their own life?
- How can the final moments of patients whose treatment has been discontinued following a decision taken at their own request or that of their family or by health care providers, be made more dignified? ".
Over the last twenty years, CCNE has more than once had occasion to reflect on these matters. In the first Opinion the Committee published on this subject in 1991, CCNE "expressed its disapproval of legislation or regulations that legitimise the act of taking the life of a patient" (Opinion N°26). In 1998, it declared itself in favour of “discussing publicly and with serenity the problem of care at the end of life, including in particular the subject of euthanasia” (Opinion N°58). In 2000, CCNE suggested the concept of “joint commitment, a plea of exception for euthanasia”. (Opinion N°63).
Opinion N°121, “The End of Life, Personal Autonomy, the Will to Die”, sets out CCNE’s current thinking, taking into consideration developments in law and in practice over the last ten years on the subject of the rights of patients and of people at the end of their lives, as well as the Sicard Commission’s report.