In a recent issue of the French weekly news magazine L’Obs, prominent public intellectuals — including actors, filmmakers, university professors, and the mayor of Paris — penned an open letter calling on French president Emmanuel Macron and prime minister Elisabeth Borne to legalize assistance in dying. “Every year,” they wrote, “French men and women suffering from serious and incurable diseases are confronted with physical and moral suffering that treatments can no longer relieve.” The national discourse, however, misses an important point: The rising public support for assisted dying reflects our deeper failure, as a society, to adequately care for the living.

The provision of palliative care — care that seeks to maximize the quality of life for people living with serious or terminal illnesses, without hastening death — remains markedly underfunded and undersupported in France.

Proponents of legalizing assisted dying argue that that issue is philosophically and politically distinct from the matter of improving palliative care. But the two ideas are connected: The reasons that many French people give for wanting a change in the law are intimately related to the distressing ways in which they are seeing people die today.

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