Minister of Health Wants to Experiment with Supervised Injection Sites

Marisol Touraine, Health Minister.
Photo: Flickr.com/Parti Socialiste

Marisol Touraine, French Minister of Health, announced on October 21st that she was “hoping” that France could start experimenting supervised injection sites (SIS), otherwise known as “shooting galleries,” or salles de shoot in French, by the end of 2013. She asserted that she had the support of several cities in the country that were willing to try the concept.

Several associations such as Médecins du monde have campaigned in favor of such facilities for a long time, stating that supervising drug addicts in clean and welcoming environments would be the best way to fight both drug addiction and the spread of serious diseases, thanks to preventive actions.

The former right-wing government had rejected the idea, presented at that time by the socialist representative Jean-Marie Le Guen. Touraine now reconsiders the option, offering to follow the example of several countries, including European neighbors. For example, there are 26 “shooting galleries” in Germany, 37 in Netherlands, and 13 in Switzerland.

The proposal came from the mayors of cities like Marseille and Paris and became one of François Hollande’s campaign promises during the presidential campaign. For the website Seronet, Hollande declared that he would let these cities “conduct experiments to improve drug users’ health and reduce nuisance in our neighborhoods.” Hollande stressed the need to be careful, however, and to treat it as a real experiment that would have to yield positive results.

As expected, the members of the main opposition party the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) expressed their stark opposition to the project. Back in August, Camille Bedin, National Secretary of the party, had already declared that “opening drug injection rooms is not fighting against the plague that drugs represent, it’s making commonplace and legalizing the use and consumption of the hardest drugs, at the expenses of the taxpayers!”

There are actually two conflicting ethical frameworks in this case. On the one hand, the UMP argues a legal perspective: drugs are illegal and dangerous and the State cannot show support to drug addicts. Beyond this firm moral opinion, the UMP also points out that it could encourage drugs addicts to continue using drugs. On the other hand, Touraine, the French President, and some organizations like Médecins du Monde, adopt a results-oriented strategy, focusing on consequences: since it has been proven by several studies that these supervised injection sites had a positive impact, they should be implemented, putting the moral principle after the positive consequences.

Touraine called on the members of the political arena not to be “partisan.” However, the issue of the injection sites is very similar with the one of marijuana: is making marijuana legal a good solution? Should we stop fighting against drug consumption to end trafficking? Such debates are not as narrow-minded as they might seem: when looking beyond the political interests and adopting the perspective of the society that has to live with these political choices, it becomes clear that these choices involve major ethical decisions, where nothing is ever black or white.

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