PARIS — Despite making headlines around the world for street protests in recent weeks, democracy continues to work and develop in France with the conclusion of the French Citizens’ Assembly on End of Life issues.
After deliberating for 27 days spread across 4 months, 184 randomly selected citizens from across France reached 92% consensus around 67 recommendations. President Emmanuel Macron invited the Assembly Members to receive their recommendations at the Presidential Palace.
Macron said the citizen members had “perfected and brought to maturity” the democratic innovation of Citizens’ Assemblies. He promised to hold more assemblies to tackle other issues and said he wishes that their recommendations will form the basis for new legislation to be introduced by the end of the summer.
The Citizens’ Assembly had been convened after France’s National Ethics Committee had a fierce debate which resulted in a recommendation in September 2022 to adapt the Claeys-Leonetti law from 2016, which currently bans euthanasia and assisted dying. Alongside a divided public debate on the issue, Macron announced that a Citizens’ Assembly would examine it in depth to provide the government with recommendations on whether, and if so, how, the existing legislation should be amended.
The citizens concluded that France's existing legislation should be reformed to allow for both assisted suicide and euthanasia. Their recommendations also delve into related details, such as the conditions under which this might be possible, inclusive access, necessary budgetary resources, investment in palliative care, improved conditions for healthcare workers, more research on these issues, and better public information.
Half of the report includes space for the minority view. 184 out of the original 185 members participated from start to finish — one person dropped out due to a change in employment that prevented continued attendance.
The assembly heard testimony from medical experts, doctors, nurses, associations, people living with chronic illness and incurable diseases, as well as from faith leaders and philosophers. Assembly members deliberated in small groups and as a larger group to define their collective recommendations.
“Another Citizens’ Assembly — another successful exercise of democracy that can give us all hope,” said Claudia Chwalisz, Founder and CEO of DemocracyNext. “In contrast to conflict generated by the existing electoral system, the extremely high level of consensus reached by the Assembly Members along with the level of sustained participation of all 184 French citizens are significant. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Citizens’ Assemblies hold great promis, and we should organize more of them if we are to begin to address the polarization and anger that is growing under the current system. President Macron’s statements are greatly encouraging. The most important thing now is that the French citizens who spent their time and energy in this assembly are listened to, and that we continue to empower more citizens to deliberate and shape public decisions.”
"As President Macron said in his address to the Convention's citizens on Monday," said Yale Professor Hélène Landemore, "this convention marks in France the end of the experimental phase and the entry into a more institutional phase in which the recourse to deliberative democracy will be normalized. The Convention on end of life is now going to be a benchmark for any future assembly, in France and, hopefully, abroad as well." Landemore served on the Governance Committee of the End of Life Assembly and is a DemocracyNext Strategic Advisor.
The full report of the French Citizens’ Assembly is available here.
Before setting up DemocracyNext, Claudia Chwalisz was involved in designing the permanent Paris Citizens’ Assembly, as well as the Ostbelgien Citizens’ Council, the world’s first permanent deliberative body made up of people drawn by lottery, and the permanent Citizens’ Assembly for Climate in Brussels.
Claudia established and led the OECD’s work on innovative citizen participation since 2018, co-authoring the OECD’s flagship report Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave, leading the development of the OECD Good Practice Principles for Deliberative Processes, and writing the OECD Paper Eight Ways to Institutionalise Deliberative Democracy.