France shows it can deal with death
Britain would do well to follow the French example and pay people who take time off to look after a dying relative or partner
Andrew Brown – guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 February 2010 10.00 GMT
The French state is not famous for sensitivity and tact, but this morning the parliament voted unanimously for a remarkably imaginative measure to make dying easier there. People who take time off to look after a relative or partner close to death will be entitled to an payment of €50 (£44) a day for 21 days. At a time when English politicians argue about a death tax, the French have got on and established a subsidy for the dying.
It’s not a huge sum of money. I don’t think that’s the point. There are incidental expenses and inconveniences when someone is dying but they are seldom immense. They matter far less than the grief and exhaustion which attend almost every deathbed. What the payment does is to register the state’s belief that to tend a dying friend or relative is a worthwhile activity, which should be honoured and not needlessly impeded.
This is a much more practical approach, and more compassionate, too, than grandstanding about principles and rights as we have been doing in this country for the last few weeks. Discussions about euthanasia in Britain are mostly conducted on the basis of individual hard cases, but the French law takes account of the fact that even a death that ends well can be hard and terrible for the people around. It is also work. To that extent a subsidy for the work done at the end of life is something the state – society – should pay just as it pays us around the time our children are born.
Like funerals, the French arrangement recognises that death affects the living all around the dead person, and they require help and acknowledgement to carry on. That may sound cynical, but I think it is purely realistic. We no longer have clear periods of socially supported mourning and this is thoughtless cruelty for the bereaved. Although the British like to think of themselves as pragmatists and the French as airy-fairy theoreticians, in this instance the balance is reversed; we should acknowledge this, and remedy it.