“Administered death is a major risk to family ties”

“Administered death is a major risk to family ties”

For a large number of French citizens, the question of the end of life opens up less a social debate than reflections on the end of their own life or that of a loved one. The personalization of this issue largely explains the passionate exchanges that still take place within the Citizens’ Convention and between the players in this debate. This is, for example, the case of the minister in charge of this file, Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, it is also the case of the singer Line Renaud.

88% of French people say they have been particularly affected by bereavement during their lifetime (1). Before being a question of society or a medical question, the end of life indeed evokes the memory of my father, “whose hand I held until the end”, from my mother, “whose eyes I closed”, of my sister, “who asked to end it”, or my spouse, “who was remarkably accompanied in palliative care”.

The experience of the death of our loved ones

Death is an event that deeply marks the lives of families and punctuates their history. We remember that such an event took place before or after the death of a loved one, that such a child “knew” or “did not know” his grandfather.

Our experience of death is linked to that of the death of our loved ones. In the vast majority of cases, it is the death of a member of our family. It is always an indirect experience, through an intermediary, lived in helplessness and pain.

For those less close, we ask: “But what did he die of? », as if it mattered when the person is no longer there. The answer is precious for ourselves who remain on the shore of life. We could just as well ask differently: “But what could I, too, die of one day? » Ce ” how did he die ” allows us to reassure ourselves – more or less and for a while – while watching death sideways, out of the corner of our eye.

A common story

Always experienced by proxy, death is never our personal history, but it is part of the history of our families.

And in these family stories, the way of dying is never trivial. What have I heard of my grandmother’s last moments? Were they called “beautiful death” because she would have died while sleeping, or do we realize a terrible end, both long and painful? And, closer to me, was my experience of my father’s departure, lived at his bedside, just as appalling? These dehumanized ends of life leave lasting traces of guilt for those who remain and try to imagine what could or should have been done to relieve their loved one. Have we been faithful to this tacitly tied pact of non-abandonment: “You gave me life, I will be there for you until the end” or “I made my life with you, I will take care of you no matter what”?

Anticipated and administered death then appears as a shortcut for the dying person and for his family. Shortcut that would avoid those final moments. But does the family then live the same experience of death? Does she grieve in the same way after a suicide? After euthanasia?

A blind spot

This is a blind spot in the question of the end of life. Some will point out the « courage » of the one who has chosen to end it, refraining from dissociating himself from his gesture. But many others denounce the violence experienced. This is the case in Belgian families, in particular, when they discover a posteriori the euthanasia of one of their own. The European Court of Human Rights thus handed down a judgment in the Mortier case against Belgium last October. She ruled that Belgium had violated the right to life of the mother of Tom Mortier, euthanized for depression in 2012.

Tom Mortier had addressed virulent reproaches to the doctor, author of the euthanasia: « YOU you followed my mother’s madness! (…) You took away the suffering of one person and transferred it to another! » At the end of the judgment, he further declared: “Although nothing can lessen the pain of the loss of my mother, I hope that the Court’s decision (…) will draw the world’s attention to the immense harm that euthanasia inflicts, not only on people in situation of vulnerability who contemplate ending their lives, but also their families and, ultimately, society. » Indeed, if the person who leaves no longer suffers, it is his relatives who then carry – and definitively – the weight of this end of life evaded in a prescribed death that they were unable to prevent.

Destruction of family ties

In the name of freedom and self-determination, a cross is put on the bundle of emotional and carnal relationships that bind the family. This marks the return of the paternalistic influence of medical power, empowered to override family ties. What will happen in families where one of the children will approve and others will oppose? What will remain of family ties after the death of the euthanized father or the suicide mother? How can we be certain that the one who encourages is not also the one who has the greatest interest in receiving his inheritance? Won’t there remain suspicions or final resentments in imploded families?

Euthanasia or assisted suicide, if they were to be legalized, would be weapons of destruction of family ties, already often shaken by the fragility of marital ties. Rather than the “shortcut” of death on prescription, “dying well” involves the well-treatment of the expert work of palliative care, as close as possible to the needs of the person who is leaving, in a constant dialogue with him and his family. Until the end.


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