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Discours du President of ADMD - Chicago – Saturday 20th September 2014 - 20th WFRtDS Conference

Discours du President of ADMD - Chicago – Saturday 20th September 2014 - 20th WFRtDS Conference
Address by Jean-Luc Romero
President of ADMD
Director bord WFRtDS
20th WFRtDS Conference
Chicago – Saturday 20th September 2014
Dear Friends,
My name is Jean-Luc Romero, and I have been President of ADMD-France since 2007. ADMD counts over 57.000 members and, thanks to its 130 delegations, is represented in every part of France and also in overseas French territories.
As an introduction, I wish to point out that the latest opinion poll shows that 89% of French people are in favour of the right to die in dignity. And if we consider the age bracket 65 and above the percentage figure is 98%.
Hence you may think that we should be progressing rapidly and that in France should very soon be voted a law on active euthanasia and assisted suicide. All the more so as François Hollande during his presidential campaign, proposed to legalize assistance in dying and that the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, acting Rapporteur for the National Assembly in 2009, put forward a draft law concerning the right to end one’s life in dignity. All requirements are met for an action in the direction wanted by the French people. No political risk as such a measure has been claimed for over the last twenty years. No legal risk either as Europe counts excellent forerunners in this area : The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. And let us not forget assisted suicide in neighbouring Switzerland.
Then where is the problem?
Obviously we overlooked the great fear overcoming our heads of Government when it comes to reforming our Society. François Holland did bring a reform to marriage when he extended it to couples of the same sex. But it seems that the impact of huge demonstrations organized by fanatical and violent homophobes definitely deterred him from any future reform regardless how strongly it is supported by French people.
In his residence and taking advice only from his close advisers, one of whom is – once again – Professor of Medicine, the President now feels that the best thing to do is to wait for a consensus law to be worked out.
But is consensus the only way to bring about an in-depth reform in Society? Consensus is the smallest common denominator; the result is an impression of complacency and general dissatisfaction. Those who are in favour feel frustration, those who are against feel betrayed.
I will first set forth the situation since the election of François Hollande in Spring 2012 (1) ; then I will give you the present situation and the feeling of our militants (2) and finally I will speak about what we are doing in view of obtaining the ultimate freedom law which we have worked for over the last 34 years. (3)
1)      What has been happening since the election of François Hollande in Spring 2012 ?
Let’s go back to November 2011.
In November 2011, in coordinated manner with the 4th World Day for the right to die in dignity, we launched a first communication campaign: press inserts, video spots on the main TV channels, posters and visual supports forwarded to all Members of Parliament. On the visual, a woman was portrayed lying on a hospital bed, intubated, and with the sentence : “94% of French people support euthanasia; the law still does not”. This campaign aroused interest, as evidenced by the opinion poll which showed once again that practically everybody in France supported our action. A few opponents emerged here and there and started firing at us. Luckily, they had no idea that the real campaign would be launched a few months later, in March 2012.
At the meantime, at the very end of year 2012 we opened a blog, giving the position of each Member of Parliament – outgoing member or Senator – as well as the position of each one of the candidates to the Presidential and legislative elections, with copy of their replies to our written sollicitation. Collecting all this information was quite a heavy task but we felt it was essential for all French people to know what their voting choice implied.
In March – 24th – we organized a large public event in Paris, Place de la République. A meeting followed where candidates for Presidency were invited to give their position on the end of life issue. The event was a great success and we were lucky with the weather: a beautiful sunny Spring day. All candidates were present or represented.
Having knowledge of the positions of the various candidates allowed us to launch our second large communication campaign. A photomontage was made where three candidates: Nicolas Sarkozy, outgoing President, Marine Le Pen, extreme right wing party and François Bayrou, Christian Democrats, were pictured lying in hospital, on their death bed.
A hard-hitting campaign, matching the harsh conditions in which people die in France. There were many reactions, some less moderate than others. This essentially viral campaign was viewed all over the World. Some media worldwide (Russia, Mexico, Canada, Africa…) were interested in our visuals and journalists were sent out to meet us. The French political class all took position – in favor or against this campaign. Probably they did not realize that in doing so they were heading in the direction we wanted, that is : that in their election program they clearly express their position on the issue of legalizing euthanasia. The subject was at the heart of an election campaign for the first time ever. François Hollande issued Proposal number°21; Nicolas Sarkozy was opposed to any law on this. Once François Hollande was elected the socialist Members of Parliament recalled the proposal.
Should we have had François Hollande appear on the visuals ? The future will soon tell.
Just think : after making a good start – through Proposal N°21 – François Hollande was elected, and his first move with regard to the issue was to head for a palliative care unit and entrust with the mission of examining the issue Professor Didier Sicard – well known for his position against legalizing euthanasia – together with eight other people also mainly against a freedom law. Inevitably, the conclusion was that there was no need to legalize active assistance in dying. It should be noted that ADMD with 57.000 members, by far the largest Association working in the area of end of life, was not consulted when this mission was initiated.
Following on from this, the advice of the National Ethics Consultative Committee – for which the same Didier Sicard is honorary President – was sought by the President of the Republic and the position of this body was that the existing legislation is one of the best in the World. Most likely, after a few adjustments, the present law would allow coping with all end of life situations. If this was true we would never have heard the names: Chantal Sébire, Vincent Lambert, Nicolas Bonnemaison, Jean Mercier, and so many others who died in unworthy conditions as these were not their choice.
Let me recall that Chantal Sébire was a lady suffering from a painful sinus tumor; as she could not benefit from assisted suicide, she finally manage to commit suicide in 2008, in unclear circumstances.
Vincent Lambert is a young man who at present is in a chronic vegetative condition. His family is torn apart; on the one hand, his mother, under the influence of a religious sect, is a therapeutic obstinacy hardliner; on the other, his wife would like sedation to be performed; this implies dehydration and starvation. Such is the strict application of the horrible present law in force. The State Council decided in favor of sedation; the young man’s mother has lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.
Nicolas Bonnemaison is an emergency physician who has put an end to the suffering of several patients using a lethal substance; this was outside the boundaries of the law.  He was acquitted by the court of assizes.
Jean Mercier is an old man who allowed his wife who was at the end of her life to commit suicide using his own medicine ; he did not call the police. He is now under prosecution for failure to assist person in danger.
Only hitch in this chorus of praise, well orchestrated by those against and admired by the no-choice people, following some changes in the political agenda some members of the National Ethics Consultative Committee were replaced. The representatives of the monotheistic religions were not there. This new Committee took up the issue once again, setting as a prerequisite, consultation of a citizens’ jury.
And then surprise! When all so-called experts, top Professors of Medicine, philosophers, and all species of many words were applauding the brilliant French intelligence in the area legislation for end of life, twenty people had been selected through an opinion poll and a panel as a representative cross-section of the population; their conclusion was that it was necessary, and urgent to allow all who so wished to benefit from assistance in dying (euthanasia and assisted suicide). Also, on an exceptional basis, euthanasia should be allowed for people who, in an unconscious state, would no longer be in a position to speak. To sum up : the conclusions drawn are going a very long way…
Thunderclap in the media and political circles. Once again, the citizens were contradicting the self-proclaimed experts stiffly standing in their certainties and power.
Then the Head of State and the Prime Minister should have taken this opportunity to put forward a text before Parliament; instead they dithered and postponed for months presentation of any text.
So, after a number of well known difficult cases such as that of Vincent Lambert and Nicolas Bonnemaison – Jacqueline Jencquel will be able to tell you more about them as she has followed both very closely – the Government has now entrusted Jean Leonetti, a conservative MP, author of the 2005 law, with the task of thinking out a new law. The latter, together with another Member of Parliament declared in some Catholic newspapers (La Vie, La Croix) that he had accepted the mission only on condition that neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide be examined. Then what is the point? Is this move to be just a new self-satisfaction campaign?
At the end of the mission a report will be drawn up and – maybe, at last – a draft law will be put forward to Members of Parliament in December.
2)     Where do we stand today ? And what is the feeling of our militants ?
So much time wasted. The people of France are undergoing suffering and die in difficult conditions.  It must be noted that for a young man like Vincent Lambert, whose fate is in the hands of the State Council and of the European court of Human Rights, the choice will be between therapeutic obstinacy – after an 8-year coma – and full sedation with deprivation of food and water, in view of death which will occur within 30 days. A horrifying thought!
Of course, I do hear a few ADMD members calling for conciliation, compromise, dialogue, negotiation, toning down our position… But, why should we ? We have been striving over 34 years to obtain a minimum law. We – Board members democratically elected by 9 out of 10 voters – have not committed to a lackluster law. Over 34 years we have been actively working for a law implying choice. For the single and excellent reason that any French citizen must remain In possession of his rights and duties up till the last day of his/her life; first and foremost is the right over one’s own body.
No, French women did not agree to any half-measure when they fought for the right of vote in 1944. Nor did women in France agree to a half-measure when they were fighting for the right to abortion in 1975. In fact, never were victories in this country obtained through negotiations with the invader who was denying us our freedom.
3)     What is ADMD doing toward a new law?
Today, we constantly urge our 57.000 members to voice their opinion with their Government representatives.
-           First the Members of Parliament - They are approached on the occasion of each of the public meetings of our 130 delegations. I take part in about fifty of these every year, and often MPs and Senators are present, bringing their support. I regret to note, however, that the support we have all over France is not the same as in Paris, in Parliament. What a shame…
-          Prime Minister - Through a standard letter issued in our journal, which our 57.000 members are invited to send out, reminding him of his commitment expressed in 2009. Our Honorary Committee members – which include intellectuals, artists, politicians – also sent an open letter to him along the same lines. An answer is still awaited.
-          President of the Republic - One advantage when writing to the President is that there is no postal charge; a satirical illustration postcard was issued whereby our members could regularly remind the President of his commitment.
It must be pointed out that the ADMD Young Member group is growing in number and activity; they take part in foot races in the name of Ultimate Freedom, and in cultural events; they are present in all events concerning the young, namely on the occasion of the Solidays Festival, an event bringing together tens of thousands of young people. Special thanks to Ours Max for its appearance near our youngest supporters.
Personally, I relentlessly strive to meet political officials, from the majority group as well as from the opposition; and I stress that the very large majority of French people, whatever their political colouring (right wing, left wing, extreme right or left, ecologists…) support our draft law. I tell them that a law will be the only way to avoid the slippery slope of lawlessness experienced today in France, and that the right to benefit from euthanasia or assisted suicide will never become an obligation.
In September we organized militant picnics and a major public meeting in Strasbourg, capital city of Europe, with the participation of many Association leaders, namely Sarah Wooton and Jim Humble (DID), Sandra Martino (Dignital), Lydie Err (Luxemburg), Aycke Smook (RtD-E). In November, the 7th World Day for the right to die in dignity will allow us once again to bring together our strengths.
In conclusion, I wish to say that the month of December will be of crucial importance for us as we will at last know if a draft law on the end of life will be put forward; we will also know if the Government will lead us to the ultimate freedom longed for by the very large majority of French people, and which, as the former Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, put it so well: grant the right for each and everyone to remain autonomous and conscious until his death, rather than departing when in a state of sedation fogginess.
If the Government does not keep its promises, we will turn to an alternative strategy; we will urge MPs to use their power of initiative, as was already done in 2009 and 2011. There is a majority to do this at the National Assembly. This seems feasible and ADMD-France will use all available means to reach its goal.
                                                                                                                             Jean-Luc Romero
                                                                                                                             President of ADMD

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