Spanish parliament approves controversial euthanasia bill

The bill will come into force three months after its publication in the Official State Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado) and, from then, adults in Spain who suffer from a serious and incurable illness or any serious chronic condition that cause "intolerable physical or psychological suffering" without the possibility of cure or improvement, will be able to request medical assistance to die. EPA-EFE/Kiko Huesca [EPA-EFE/Kiko Huesca]

The Spanish parliament (Congreso de los Diputados) approved on Thursday with a large majority a controversial bill to regulate euthanasia in the country, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

After a harsh debate in parliament on the concepts of life and death, as well as their moral and legal implications, 198 MPs ended up voting in favour of the bill, while 138 voted against and two abstained.

At the centre of debate was the right of every individual to put an end to their life in cases of unbearable suffering, with no hope of healing or improvement – a notion that ended up winning the approval of a majority in the Spanish parliament.

The “euthanasia bill” will now go to the Spanish senate, and will be formally approved in 2021.

With this vote, the first legal hurdle for legal euthanasia in Spain has been overcome. But while some described the vote as “historic”, others lamented it.

The centre-right party Partido Popular (PP) and far-right Vox party stressed that palliative care should be the only alternative to euthanasia, echoing the voices of many pro-life Catholics in Spain.

Euthanasia vs palliative care

However, the left-wing alliance forged by the socialist PSOE and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) who share the power in a coalition executive, rejected the views of the two right-wing parties.

Instead, the ruling coalition pushed for legislation that decriminalises medical assistance for people who ask for their right to die in health centres or at home – after a deliberative process and with the strict control of a specific medical committee.

The bill will come into force three months after its publication in the Official State Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado). From then, adults in Spain who suffer from a serious and incurable illness or any serious chronic condition that cause “intolerable physical or psychological suffering” without the possibility of cure or improvement, will be able to request medical assistance to die.

The National Health System (Seguridad Social) will offer medical assistance in the process.

Patients must confirm four times their willingness to die

To exercise their right, patients must confirm their willingness to die on at least four occasions throughout the process, which may take a little over a month from the time of the first request.

At any moment, the patient may withdraw or postpone euthanasia.

The law also provides for the right of doctors to conscientious objection and establishes the creation of a Guarantee and Evaluation Commission in every Spanish region.

Spain’s Health Minister, Salvador Illa, expressed his satisfaction after the vote on Thursday. The new legislation represents progress in the recognition of rights “towards a more humane and just society,” he said.

“As a society, we cannot remain impassive in the face of the intolerable suffering that many people are experiencing; Spain is a democratic society that is mature enough to deal with this issue,” he added.

Illa also recalled recent polls showing that 80% of citizens in Spain support decriminalising euthanasia.

[Edited by Daniel Eck and Frédéric Simon]

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