During his election campaign, French President Macron committed to launching a public debate on euthanasia and suicide in France. For years, there have been debates between French supporters and opponents of changing the law to introduce active euthanasia.
184 citizens therefore came together in a Citizens' Convention to discuss and work on this issue. The convention was a great success, lessons learned can be drawn from this participation format to make future citizen participation even more effective.
The second Citizens’ Convention established by the Conseil Économique Social et Environnemental
During his re-election campaign, French President Macron committed to opening the public debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia. For years, there has been tension between a growing number of French citizens in favor of changing the law to introduce active assistance in dying (un aide active à mourir) and those who do not want the country to move beyond the current law.
On September 13, 2022, Macron announced the launch of a national debate to explore this issue. “The necessary time will be taken, and all guarantees must be given to ensure the conditions for an orderly, serene and enlightened debate”, the Elysée stressed. Prime Minister Borne followed up with a letter which tasked the CESE (Conseil Économique Social et Environnemental) with establishing the Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life (CCFV). Since 2021, the CESE is now recognized as the Third Assembly of the French Republic with a consultative mandate to engage with citizens and lead national debates. The CCFV remit invited citizens to shed light on the following question:
Is the end-of-life support framework adapted to the different situations encountered, or should any changes be introduced?
Citizens’ Convention in France 2022–2023
The Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life began with 185 participants with one person dropping out for employment reasons.
The Sortition process used to bring together a representative sampling of France, included the following six criteria: gender, age, region (including overseas france), education level, socio-professional category, and urban/rural/peri-urban.
CCFV participants committed to a total of nine weekends, stretched over 27 days at the Palais D’Iéna in Paris.
They received a stipend along with all expenses paid for (travel, accommodation, food and childcare).
The final report included 65 proposals and received a 92 per cent participant approval.
In the end, 76 per cent of participants voted to introduce a French model for assisted suicide and euthanasia within a well-defined framework of strict guidelines.
The costs of the CCFV is estimated at approx. five million Euros.
How did the CCFV work?
An Evolving Co-Creation Process
- The 184 French citizens chosen by democratic lottery represented a broad range of perspectives and views.
- Given the sensitivity of the topic area, effort was made throughout the process to ensure that the minority voice was given sufficient space to express its perspective and insights.
- Early sessions were designed to create a sense of community and build social cohesion. The Common Convictions section of the final report represents the areas of consensus with subsequent sections documenting areas of divergence.
- Another notable CCFV innovation was the introduction of a team of graphic designers to tell the story of the process. This group injected humor, empathy, and nuance into sessions in an accessible way.
The Participants Present at the Elysée
- President Macron received the CCFV participants at the Elysée in April, 2023.
- He has requested the national Assembly to build on the CCFV report and introduce a legislative bill by the end of Summer 2023.
- The CESE has committed to a follow-up session with CCFV participants within six months. The participants have also considered establishing Les 184, an association to help guide their work in the months ahead.
An institution to lead Citizens’ assemblies
- Given the success of the CCFV, Macron has announced his intention to engage the CESE for future citizens' assemblies on other public issues of national importance.
- Recognized as the Third Assembly of the French Republic, this consultative body mandated to lead innovative citizen engagement and public consultations is a valuable asset.
- As envisioned by mechanisms like the Democratic Action Fund, over time, institutions such as the CESE can accelerate the number of citizens’ assemblies across a country and create platforms for government bodies to organise these at different levels of government.
Lessons learned from the CESE
For the future of citizens’ assemblies there are three aras for improvement: The selection of the topic, the development of robust co-creation plans and the need for a stronger link with the broader public.
To provide citizens with more agenda setting powers, the option to select topics should be open for citizens. An increasing number of deliberative platforms are incorporating mechanisms for citizens to have a say in the topic while balancing this need with the existence of political will. This could lead to more interest in certain topics.
During the design phase, a plan for linking citizens’ assemblies to the political decision-making process should be developed. Participants should clearly be provided with greater agency and responsibility throughout the implementation. Such plans for amplifying these voices and including them in
the decision-making process did not exist and, instead, evolved gradually. In addition, for greater transparency, guarantors should begin their engagement as early as possible to provide input for the design of the citizens’ assembly.
A robust connection between a citizens’ assembly and the broader public is an important component for building legitimacy. Some CCFV plenary sessions were livestreamed, and, after the Learning Phase, the public was able to register and attend sessions in person. The press conferences with participants also helped increase knowledge of the CCFV. However, a greater focus on the profiles of the participants would have been beneficial. An online public education campaign would have created a greater connection between the CCFV and the general public.
The CCFV is not the first Citizens’ Convention established by the CESE
The Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life was the second national citizens’ assembly organised in France. The first was the Citizens’ Convention for Climate (2019-2020) implemented on the heels of President Macron's Grand Débat National (2019).
For more information on these processes, see the references.
Message to go:
Sources and further reading
Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life
Link to the CESE website
Ehsassi, M. and Landemore, H. Learnings from the French Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life
Citizens Convention for Climate website
Link to the Democratic Action Fund website
Shortcut 4 French Citizens‘ Convention on Climate
Putting The Public Back In Public Policy
Democracy and social cohesian
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Dr Dominik Hierlemann, Prof Dr Robert Vehrkamp, Anna Renkamp
Cover picture: © Katrin Baumann / CESE
The shortcut series presents and discusses interesting approaches, methods, and projects for solving democratic challenges in a condensed and illustrative format. The Bertelsmann Stiftung‘s project New Democracy publishes it at irregular intervals.