After French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent announcement of new legislation that would allow adults facing terminal illnesses to access assisted suicide, the country’s bishops have hit back against the measure, stressing the need for further investment in palliative care.

In a March 21 statement, the French bishops, who are currently meeting in Lourdes for their spring plenary assembly, voiced “our great concern and our deep reservations with regard to the bill announced on the end of life.”

Noting that the Marian shrine in Lourdes is traditionally a place where those who are sick come to experience healing, the bishops voiced their solidarity with “the most fragile people” and insisted that all human life must be “unconditionally respected and accompanied with authentic fraternity.”

Earlier this month, Macron announced that he would put forward a new bill legalizing “aid in dying” for terminally ill individuals, and that he planned to present a draft of the legislation to parliament in May.

It marks a significant shift for France, where life-termination measures are currently banned, whereas neighbors such as Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands have already adopted assisted dying measures in some cases.

Part of France’s hesitation to draft measures permitting assisted suicide so far has been pressure from the Catholic Church. Macron himself is Catholic.

In 2016, France adopted the Claeys-Leonetti law authorizing deep sedation at the request of palliative patients.

According to Macron, the new aid-in-dying bill would require certain conditions to be met for those seeking the option, including a meeting with a medical team that would assess the patient’s situation and evaluate their criteria.

The measure would only be available to adults capable of making the decision and whose medical prognosis was terminal in the medium-term, such as late-stage cancer patients. Macron said family members would also be able to appeal the decision.

In their statement, the French bishops noted that many citizens serve as caregivers to those who are sick and dying, and they voiced gratitude for the “commitment, competence and generosity” of those who devote their time and energy to caring for others.

“We reaffirm our attachment to the French way of refusing induced death,” they said, and asked that priority be given to palliative care instead, saying, “our democratic ideal, so fragile and so necessary, is based on the founding prohibition against killing.”

They voiced closeness to all those who are suffering and lauded advances already made in palliative care, saying further development in this area is needed on both a quantitative and qualitative basis.

“All this has a cost that a democratic society like ours will be honored to assume,” they said.

They also urged Catholics to be more involved in the lives of the elderly, those who are dying, or those with disabilities, saying requests for assisted suicide or euthanasia are often “the expression of a feeling of loneliness and abandonment to which we cannot and must not resolve.”

“The more solidarity with the most vulnerable people progresses, the more our country will advance on a renewed path of fraternity, justice, hope and peace,” they said.

In an era obsessed with youth and which fears death and growing older, fragile lives are considered “meaningless,” the bishops said, voicing their affirmation that “all life, however fragile it may be, deserves to be honored until its natural end.”

“In the midst of so much contemporary violence, in our country and throughout the world, we call on all Christians and all men and women of good will to be authentic servants of the lives of their brothers and sisters,” they said.

Macron’s announcement of a new end of life bill comes after France earlier this month became the first country to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right, making this the latest row between the French bishops and the government.

In a joint March 20 statement, European bishops joined other Christian Churches on the continent in lamenting that the Christian principles on which Europe was founded are either being sidelined or instrumentalized for political gain.

The decried what they said was a “crisis of values in the European area” and said that a significant portion of EU citizens who see the future through the lens of Christian values “now feel marginalized, as they do not have the opportunity to express their positions and opinions in an autonomous and distinct way.”

“We also notice the exclusion of any appropriate reference to Christian values in relevant EU texts,” they said, and asked that European leaders and institutions engage in a more consistent, open and transparent dialogue with church leaders, religious associations and non-confessional organizations.

They also asked that Christian values be promoted in political programs and pre-election campaigns ahead of the European Parliament’s elections in June.

In their statement, the French bishops said that as Easter approaches, the Church and the world are reflecting on the triumph of love and life over suffering and feelings of abandonment.

“May the hope of this Easter light enlighten and encourage all our fellow citizens and all their representatives on the threshold of a decisive debate for the present and for the future of our common humanity,” they said.