Euthanasia law

Up to 24 people in Catalonia have already received assistance to die

Health Department has received more than fifty requests since the euthanasia law was rolled out six months ago

3 min
A companion holding a patient's hand at the hospital

BarcelonaCatalonia has been one of the first regions in Spain to implement the euthanasia law, after Spain definitively approved its decriminalisation in March, and since 25 June the right to end one's own life with medical assistance in the case of suffering a severe and incurable illness, with insufferable pain, or a severe, chronic and disabling illness, can now be exercised in Catalonia. Since then, 24 people have already exercised this right and received help to die in Catalonia.

The Commission of Guarantees and Evaluation is the body in charge of analysing and approving or denying each request. Until November 30, this body, formed by a multidisciplinary professional team, has received 53 requests –34 from primary care and 19 from hospitals–, of which 28 have been approved –24 of them have already gone ahead–, 14 more are in progress, in 6 cases the applicants have died before their request was resolved, 2 more have been withdrawn –that is to say that people have changed their minds during the process– and 3 requests have been denied because they did not comply with the requirements of the law. "If it's not an incurable disease or one which causes insufferable pain it doesn't enter the process. Euthanasia is a right, but it is a strongly safeguarded process for all parties, and if [an application] does not conform to the law it has to be denied; end-of-life care is not the same as euthanasia," said the secretary general of the Department of Health, Meritxell Masó.

The average time it takes for requests to be processed is 41 days. According to data from the Department of Health, the most frequent pathologies of patients are neurodegenerative (23) and oncological (14). Likewise, a register of conscientious objectors among health professionals has also been created. Ninety professionals have registered out of a staff of 90,000.

The patient chooses how they want to die

The Department of Health has given details this Thursday morning of how the euthanasia law has been rolled out in Catalonia and has explained the process of application, assessment and provision of aid in dying. Applicants must be of legal age and have the capacity to act and decide; hold Spanish nationality or have been a resident in the country for at least 12 months; and suffer a severe, incurable illness which causes unendurable pain. The person in charge of making the first assessment of the application is a doctor chosen by the patient, with whom they analyse the therapeutic possibilities and the different results to be expected. Once a first report has been made with the results of this deliberation, the decision to continue with the procedure or to desist has to be formalised.

Should the patient wish to continue, the doctor in charge has to consult with another external doctor from his team, who acts as a consultant, with whom he has to corroborate that the requirements are met. If this is the case, a second assessment is made by the Guarantees and Evaluation Committee, which issues its opinion. If it is favourable, the provision of aid in dying can be done in two ways: it can be carried out by the care team or the patient himself, and can be done at home or in a health centre chosen by the patient. "The responsible doctor agrees on how to apply the provision of aid in dying and an agreement is reached on the date and place and the modality is chosen, which is not the decision of the care team but of the applicant, who can request euthanasia or to self-administer drugs orally or intravenously," explained the president of the Commission of Guarantee and Evaluation of Catalonia, Albert Tuca.

This is a right included in the portfolio of health services and one of its goals is also to ensure territorial equality. "Any public or private medical professional can go to any place where the patient decides to die so that there is no case where a patient is left without the right to die," said the director general of Health Planning and Regulation, Azucena Carranzo.

The Department of Health wanted to thank the training effort made by health professionals, who also have at their disposal an emotional support service. "It is a difficult process for all professionals involved in it, it is a very tough process," said Meritxell Masó. The training is voluntary and more than 11,000 professionals have already participated in one of the twelve editions of the training courses, and eight more are planned for the 6,000 professionals who have requested them.