Society 18/03/2021

Euthanasia overcomes all political obstacles and will be legal in Spain within three months

Spanish Parliament approves the amendments to the law proposed by the Senate, which incorporate that if the patient has requested it, doctors will be able to apply it even if family members oppose it

3 min
Angel Hernandez was arrested in 2019 to help his wife, Maria Jose Carrasco, die.

BarcelonaEuthanasia will be legal in the Spanish state in three months after the Spanish Parliament finally approved the decriminalisation proposed by PSOE earlier this morning. It has received the support of most parties and only the PP and Vox voted against it. In total, 202 deputies voted in favour, 141 against and two abstained. The law allows a doctor to help a patient to die if he has previously requested it in the event that the patient suffers from a serious, incurable, chronic illness or is unable to care for him or herself. With this historic change, Spain becomes the fourth European country, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the sixth in the world to regulate assisted dying

The law had already passed last December a first vote in Congress and also another in the Senate, where it was approved but some changes were proposed to the initial text. This morning, the Spanish Parliament approved all those amendments. Two of the most controversial changes proposed by the Senate - and already accepted with this morning's vote - are to allow doctors to practice euthanasia even if family members oppose it as long as the patient had previously requested it, and to include in a list the name of doctors who refuse to practice euthanasia, since they will have this option.

"The law returns worse than when it left," lamented the PP MP José Ignacio Echániz. The deputy, who has warned that Spain runs the risk of having "euthanasia tourism", has ensured that the request for euthanasia of patients will be made "from depression [...], from the lack of full powers", and has argued that "when these people are treated, the desire to die disappears". The conservative deputy also criticised that the law includes "the intimidation of a blacklist" with the names of doctors who refuse to guarantee the right to death of their patients.

On the other hand, most parties have welcomed the step that Spain is taking today. The Socialist deputy who defended the initiative, former Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo, said that the law respects the "individual freedom, beliefs and values" of each person, and read a phrase from Fernando Cuesta, an Asturian ALS patient who had to travel to Switzerland (where euthanasia is considered illegal) in order to die: "Whoever wants to live can live, but let the rest of us die with dignity. The socialist MP's intervention received a great deal of applause, given the importance of the vote.

Ask up to four times

With the new law, patients who wish it will have to leave in writing, before reaching a hypothetical moment of not being conscious to ask for it, that they want to be euthanised, and that a legal representative will be the one to request it. To try to ensure that the patient is not rushed, they will have to ask for it up to four times. After the first request, the doctor will be obliged to explain to the patient, within two calendar days, what the therapeutic possibilities are and their expected results and what the possible palliative cures are. If the patient asks for it again, the doctor will resolve all possible doubts and, if he/she asks for it a third time, the doctor will have to inform the rest of the team and, if the patient wants, also his/her relatives. A signed paper will be required. The health professional will have to pass the request on to a consultant doctor who will study the file, consult the patient and examine it. If all the requirements are met, it will have to be submitted to the Guarantee and Evaluation Commission. If the decision is positive, the patient will have to decide whether to take the lethal substance himself or to have it administered by the medical team

The regulation stipulates that people of legal age "with full capacity to act and decide" who are subjected to "physical or psychological suffering that they consider intolerable" as a result of a "serious and incurable illness with a limited prognosis for life or serious, chronic and disabling suffering, with no possibility of cure or improvement" will have the right to euthanasia. You must have Spanish nationality, legal residence in Spain or a census certificate proving that you have been in Spain for more than one year.