The balance of the euthanasia law proves how needed it was

2 min

It has been one of the most controversial and difficult laws to push through Parliament in recent years, but the balance of the first five months of the euthanasia law shows that it was necessary and that it is being implemented with all safeguards in place. Catalonia was one of the first regions to implement the law, and since 25 June the right to end one's own life with medical assistance can be exercised in the strict case that the person requesting it suffers from a severe, incurable illness which causes insufferable pain, or suffers from a severe, chronic and unendurable illness. At the time the law was activated, there were many people who had been waiting for years to request an assisted death. By November 30, the Comissió de Garanties i Avaluació, which is responsible for approving or rejecting each request, had received 53 applications. It rejected three because they did not fall under these assumptions; it has approved 28, of which 24 have already been carried out. There are 14 more requests that are still being studied. In six cases the persons requesting it died before the end of the resolution process and in two cases they withdrew their requests.

These figures show that there is rigorous control, that the system works, that there are many filters until the decision is approved and that the law is being applied very carefully and in the specific authorised cases. In fact, euthanasia, as the Health Department's Secretary General of Health Meritxell Masó recalled yesterday, is a strongly safeguarded process in which it is not enough simply to request an assisted death; there are protocols and circumstances that regulate it. It is only applied when the patient asks for it –never by external decision–, several validations are asked and there is also the option of backing out. The patient also chooses how they want to die, a decision that is not taken by the care team, but by the patient themselves, who can ask the team to administer euthanasia or self-administer the drugs.

A proof of the humanity of the process – that what it does is avoid unnecessary suffering to patients – is that, since the law was passed, the controversy has virtually disappeared. And of the 90,000 health professionals in Catalonia, only 90 have registered as conscientious objectors, that is, 0.1% of the workforce. Doctors and nurses are the ones who see first-hand the suffering of patients and, beyond the help already given to terminally ill patients undergoing palliative treatment – cases that have nothing to do with the euthanasia law –, they understand that there are cases in which the patient needs help to end their suffering, which can be unbearably prolonged without the possibility of a cure. These are, however, difficult situations, and for this reason training has also been provided and will be extended in the coming months. Euthanasia is the last resort, and that is why it is important that the administration keeps maximum transparency and maximum rigor, while facilitating the best support to both patients and families and also to the health personnel who have to carry it out.