End of life: “While we will have been able to abolish the death penalty, we will not be able to abolish the penalty of living”

Tuesday, September 13, 2022: the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) delivered its opinion on “Ethical issues relating to end-of-life situations: autonomy and solidarity”. The same day, by a strange coincidence and a sad late summer morning, Jean-Luc Godard died. The filmmaker did well to be Swiss: Godard died on the shores of Lake Geneva, he had decided to end it, wanted to let it be known – it is not innocent. He was not sick, he was exhausted, simply exhausted, specified one of his relatives. He died surrounded, he did not die surrounded.

We will never know what Jean-Luc Godard, by one of his formulas whose lucidity often disconcerted, would have answered one of the members of the same CCNE who would have prohibited him such relief because not being, alas, affected by a serious illness committing his life in the medium term, or to a palliative care doctor trying, with the greatest kindness possible, to convince him that his life was still worth living, even if he was diminished; diminished to the point of having to depend on those around him and no longer, in any way, be able to act on the world by filming, writing or speaking.

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Never in a country – France – where one constantly delays the confrontation with reality, will one be able to recognize frankly that one can, precisely, have the desire to put an end to it, as Godard said on Radio-Television Switzerland in 2014, not having to “to be dragged in a wheelbarrow”. The time of political courage which abolished the death penalty and authorized abortion is over. From now on, the most fundamental social changes, those that would do people good (energy, climate, health, etc.) are no more than the object of announcements, miniscule measures, or postponed intentions. From now on, never in this country where the desire to make as few waves as possible has reduced this courage, will we admit that, faced with a child for whom nothing can be done and who is suffering atrociously, no law, no judge can decide to end his life in the event that his father wishes it and his mother is opposed to it.

“These strict conditions which should “frame” what is ultimately always an act of kindness – relieving the other who can no longer take it despite all the support – reveal a fear driven by suspicion. »

If a text of law, through subtle formulations, manages to consider such situations exhaustively, then objectivity would end up dominating there to the detriment of the subjective, we would be installed in boxes: the subject would be de facto reduced to an object; and we would frame, that’s all. If another piece of legislation – the most likely case – fails to do so, then there will always be the risk of rendering illegal a decision that would be humanly legitimate. In the end, while we will have been able to abolish the death penalty, we will not be able to abolish the penalty of living. It is therefore not very surprising that CCNE’s Opinion No. 139, the seventh on the subject since 1991, is only making slow progress like walking on eggshells, implicitly admitting its inability to think of the question as the writer or the filmmaker would do so, with the necessary tact and acuity.

Not surprising either that this same CCNE writes with a trembling hand that it would make “active assistance in dying” subject to “certain strict conditions”, so vast is the question, and in the ingenuous hope that the addition of measures will stem excess. But there is worse: these strict conditions which should “supervise” what is ultimately always an act of kindness – relieving the other who can no longer take it despite all the support – reveal a fear driven by suspicion. As if, before any text existed, it often happened in homes and hospital rooms the worst things that human beings would be capable of towards one of their dying fellows. As if, left to itself, the civilized being became intrinsically inconsistent.

“This convention will be a tremendous incubator of ideas, from which only those already appearing in the decision-makers’ draft book will be retained. »

It is, in principle, not to trust in human nature when confronted with the imminent death; and basically pay little heed to our civilization. Never in this sixty-page text is the word love written, a word which Michael Haneke gave the title to his film (palme d’or in 2012) whose end shows Georges (octogenarian played by Jean-Louis Trintignant ) suffocating his wife Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva) hemiplegic and bedridden, without telling us which of her or him was the most relieved by this act, or tortured. Because such a gesture is always underpinned by love and moved by kindness, how can we imagine for a single moment that parliamentarians will one day manage to settle this constantly singular question which, in itself, is a hole in our thoughts? A hole near which it is so difficult to approach without feeling dizzy, that Emmanuel Macron has just launched, once again, a “citizen convention on the end of life”, yet another high mass of its kind (environment, pensions, education, water, health, vaccination, climate, justice) which will at least save time: France is no longer within six months, the first law dealing with the issue dates from 1999.

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France, but not some of our contemporaries who, as I write this paper, are waiting. Like the one on the climate, this convention will be a great incubator of ideas, from which only those already appearing in the decision-makers’ draft book will be retained. It is however almost certain that from this convention will emerge common sense, that of citizens who, for a very probable majority, hope not to live the end of their life without having any more life. This word – life – to which, to think of the end of it, it is now customary to attribute not simply the expression “the end of life”, but the “end of life”, as the mechanic puts it. also of a car; would it be just a coincidence? if it is not, at the very least it is indeed a “Farewell to language”. To speak of “end-of-life patients” is already to make it understood that they all wandered – I mean the dying – similar and undifferentiated, in the place called Findvie, an area from which the living, singular, would be removed. .

“So here we are on the eve of a few months of a mountain of debates from which a tiny mouse will probably be born. »

I can already hear them criticizing any new debate on assisted death, on the pretext that there is something more urgent, that this debate is divisive, that everything is fine like that; the same, often doctors, who therefore evacuate the thought for fear of running into failure, but will necessarily have considered the end of their own life, if it is not stored in a corner of their room enough to end their days calmly. I am one of those squirrels whose privilege of being in the business allows wisdom in anticipation of winter. Others who are not in the business but wealthy have that of being able to enroll in an establishment in Bern or Lausanne. In any case, that the one, a fortiori actor of the question, who has never thought about the end of his life with fear in his stomach, if only surreptitiously, raises his finger. But it is human, that it is about the most serious and thorniest subjects to regulate on the scale of a country, very quickly the hypocrisy operates.

They are also the same people who, as soon as the question of agony (a word, too harsh, which does not appear in the last opinion of the CCNE) is submitted to them, summon palliative care like a screen protecting from the ultimate distress of body and mind. Alas, these admirable soldiers who are sent to the front as a very last resort in this place called Findvie also know it: the moment always arrives when the ineffectiveness of the treatments disputes with their side effects. Also, it is veiling one’s face to see in the exercise of this field of medicine (probably the most humanly difficult) a universal and constant solution to a problem that goes beyond rational thought. So here we are at the edge of a few months of a mountain of debates from which probably a tiny mouse will be born which will once again seek its way into Findvie.

It would suffice to admit in a few words that there are exceptions where relieving to the point of peacefully shortening life is justifiable, in a text that would trust in wisdom; then I wouldn’t check the expiration date of what I hide in my room.

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End of life: “While we will have been able to abolish the death penalty, we will not be able to abolish the penalty of living”