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France

French press review 19 December 2012

media

Three topics dominate this morning's French papers - death, the colonial past and bankers. None of it makes for exactly cheerful reading.

Death because the Sicard report, commissioned by the Socialist government and examining the hopes, fears and wishes of the French on ways of bringing human life to a dignified and pain-free end, was delivered yesterday.

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One of the findings is that 56 per cent of those questioned are in favour of some form of "medical assistance" as they cross the threshold from this life to whatever comes next.

There are three distinct terms to be understood:

  • Euthanasia, Greek for "good death", is where a person takes active steps to end the life of another. It remains illegal in France but  the situation becomes unclear when it's a question of passively refusing to administer the care a sufferer needs to go on living;
  • Assisted suicide, where the patient himself administers lethal drugs provide by medical personnel;
  • Terminal sedation speaks for itself, being a clinically induced final coma intended to end mental and physical suffering.

The report, based on five months of reflection by a man who himself trains hospital doctors, is harsh in its criticism of the medical fraternity, too interested in technical performance, not enough in listening to those patients who no longer want to live. That's partly because doctors regard death as synonymous with failure, partly because they don't have the time or training to enable them to form any human relationship with their patients.

There are, of course, moral and political questions. Morally, the line between accepting death and encouraging death is a difficult one to establish, especially in cases involving extreme pain and incurable illness.

One doctor interviewed by the Catholic daily La Croix says he could never take the step towards helping someone to die, since his motivation and training are both focused on healing, on helping. But, of course, that raises the question of what to do when healing and help are no longer meaningful and suffering has become the only reality.

Politically, right-wing Le Figaro sets the tone by seeing this debate as another horror drawn from Socialist president François Hollande's Pandora's Box of endless evils . . . we've already had divisive debates on medically assisted conception, on same-sex marriage and now the Socialists are proposing to murder the defenceless old in their beds. If that's progress, says Le Figaro, we'd be better off backward.

Speaking of François Hollande, the French president is in Algeria for the next two days, attempting to defeat what left-wing Libération calls "the dictatorship of memory", the tortured past which links and divides the two nations.

Communist L'Humanité says a new page in the history of relations between the former colony and the former coloniser needs to be written but insists that a French acknowledgement of crimes committed during the colonial era is a necessary first step.

French presidents since Giscard d'Estaing in 1975 and François Mitterrand six years later have failed to bridge the gap between Paris and Algiers. Perhaps Aujourd'hui en France points the way ahead by placing this French visit in the category "business". Perhaps commercial concerns will finally overpower the decades of fear and mistrust.

As for the banks, today the government will start considering new laws for the banking sector, mainly aimed at separating "normal" bank activities like loans and overdrafts from the so-called "speculative" efforts like investing billions in worthless stock.

Business daily Les Echos runs a rule over the proposals and finds that they represent a pale shadow of the radical reforms promised during the Hollande presidential campaign.

You can almost hear the headline writers at Le Figaro grinding tomorrow's axe.

 
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