- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

PARIS (AP) - Debate over end-of-life care has started at France’s Senate, with a bill that would allow doctors to keep terminally ill patients sedated until death comes, but stops short of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and recent polls show a large majority of French people favor legalization.

But French lawmakers haven’t been willing to go quite that far, in a debate that is arising at the same time as the wrenching family dispute surrounding Vincent Lambert, a Frenchman in a coma since a car accident seven years ago.

Earlier this month, Europe’s top human rights court allowed doctors to stop Lambert’s treatment and confirmed that the medical process is allowed by France’s current legal framework. Lambert’s condition is now to be reassessed by his doctors.

The new bill would give people “the right to deep, continuous sedation until death.”

It would allow terminal sedation at the patient’s request only when their condition is likely to lead to a quick death.

When patients are unable to express their will, it would allow doctors to keep people sedated and stop life-sustaining treatments - including artificial hydration and nutrition - if they consider they do not improve the patients’ condition.

The methods can involve medicating patients until they die naturally of their illness, or until they starve, and some doctors say it may be more human to euthanize.

The bill would also force doctors to follow end-of-life instructions regarding terminal sedation and stopping treatments, whether they are expressed by the patients themselves or written in advance, if they are no longer able to express their will.

“We must set some limits, but not ignore the pain,” said minister of social affairs and health Marisol Touraine in her speech to the senators. “Tomorrow, the patients’ will is going to be decisive to decide of end-of-life care.”

Following the Senate’s vote, the bill will be debated by the lower house of parliament. Final approval is not expected before months.

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