French Doctors Vow to ‘Disobey’ Bill Denying Healthcare Rights to Undocumented Migrants

Tue Nov 14 2023
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PARIS: In a startling move by France’s conservative-led Senate to strip undocumented migrants of their access to free healthcare, medical professionals across the country have united in vehement opposition, denouncing the measure as an ethical, sanitary, and financial aberration.

The controversial amendment, part of a government-sponsored immigration bill, aims to eliminate the State Medical Aid (AME) scheme, which provides essential healthcare to undocumented migrants who have settled in France.

The backlash from health officials emphasizes the potential threat to public health posed by the proposed amendment. The head of the Paris hospital consortium AP-HP warned that scrapping the AME could lead to the undetected spread of diseases, exacerbating the burden on France’s health system. The Federation of French Hospitals (FHF) described the amendment as “humanitarian, sanitary, and financial heresy.”

In a powerful display of solidarity, some 3,500 health workers signed a letter pledging to continue treating undocumented patients free of charge, in adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. This commitment, however, implies working without compensation, a stance deemed as a “very strong stand” by healthcare professionals.

The contentious amendment replaces the AME with a more restrictive “emergency medical assistance” (AMU), covering only severe illnesses and acute pain. Critics argue that such limitations betray a sketchy understanding of healthcare, as prevention and early treatment are essential elements of medical practice.

While opponents of the AME claim it incites illegal immigration, its defenders argue that the costs are marginal compared to the wider public health benefits. Recent studies indicate that the need for care is a minor factor in migration decisions, debunking the notion that the AME acts as a pull factor.

The cost of reform, set to outweigh any initial savings, has raised concerns among health professionals, who foresee hidden epidemics affecting the broader population.

Amid the escalating crisis, Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau pledged to defend the AME, acknowledging the doctors’ complaints and expressing the government’s commitment to avoiding civil disobedience. The situation remains fluid, with speculation that the proposed abolition of the AME might be a negotiating ploy, allowing the government to claim openness to compromise while maintaining a tough stance on immigration.

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