The vote was an initial step toward approving a proposal that has been championed by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who said the party had spent “years” working on the subject.
In Spain's lower house Congress of Deputies, 203 MPs voted in favour versus 140 against accepting the proposed bill, which will now be formally debated by lawmakers before a vote to approve it in the Congress and the Senate. Two lawmakers abstained.
“Spain is taking a decisive step to recognise the right to a dignified death. Thanks to the people and groups who have been fighting for this for years,” tweeted Sanchez, who rules in coalition with the hard-left Podemos.
España da un paso decisivo para reconocer el derecho a una muerte digna. Gracias a las personas y colectivos que llevan años peleando por ello. Y a @luisacarcedo, por su trabajo incansable en la elaboración y defensa de esta ley de #eutanasia tan necesaria.#VidaDignaMuerteDigna pic.twitter.com/sdCAZAPFPF
— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) February 11, 2020
It is the third time in just over a year that the Socialists have tried to decriminalise euthanasia, with the bill proposing that any person suffering a serious debilitating or incurable illness may be helped to die if they wish, in order to avoid intolerable suffering.
It also envisages the right to “object on grounds of conscience” for medical professionals.
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“We are very hopeful that this time… the law will be advanced,” said Dr Fernando Marin, head of Right to Die with Dignity, expressing hope the legislation would be passed into law by the year's end.
The euthanasia question was revived in April 2019 after a pensioner was arrested for helping assist in the suicide of his wife who had battled multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He was subsequently released.
But a parliamentary debate on the subject was blocked by the main conservative Popular Party (PP) and the liberal Ciudadanos.
This time, opposition is coming from both the far-right Vox and the PP who, like the Catholic church, believe such situations should be managed with palliative care.
“Actively provoking a death is never a good solution,” said Luis Arguello, secretary-general of the Episcopal Conference, which groups Spain's leading bishops.
The debate comes 22 years after the death of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic former ship mechanic who for decades fought for the legal right to an assisted suicide and a dignified death.
After the statute of limitations had expired, one of his friends admitted helping him take his own life, with Sampedro's story immortalised in a blockbuster called “The Sea Inside” (“Mar Adentro”) by director Alejandro Amenabar which won the best foreign film Oscar in 2005.
Assisting someone to commit suicide in Spain carries a jail sentence of between two and five years, which increases to between six and 10 years if the person dies.
But the sentence can be reduced if the person was terminally ill or enduring severe suffering and had asked to die.