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What you need to know about Spain’s proposed euthanasia laws

What you need to know about Spain's proposed euthanasia laws
Could Spain become the fourth country in the European Union to legalise euthanasia? Photo: AFP
Spain's Socialist party are trying to push through a bill that effectively decriminalises euthanasia, 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.

What are the current laws surrounding assisted suicide in Spain?

The new legislation seeks to modify part of article 143 of Spain's penal code, which currently bans anyone from causing or cooperating with the death of another person suffering from “a serious, terminal illness or one that causes serious, permanent ailments that are difficult to endure”.

The bill would make it legal for a person to cause or help cause the “reliable, peaceful, painless death” of another suffering from those problems if they “specifically, freely and unequivocally” ask for it.

Currently in Spain, people with incurable diseases only have the option to refuse treatment. 

READ MORE:  Is Spain on the verge of legalising euthanasia?

The right to a good death

The preamble of the bill which is currently being debated in Spain's lower parliament enshrines what is described as the “right to a good death” and discusses both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The first term refers to an instance where active steps are taken to end someone's life, but the fatal act is carried out by someone else, such as a doctor.

And assisted suicide is when someone takes their own life but is assisted by somebody else. Rather than a doctor carrying out the fatal act, they themselves do so.

Who will have the right to request euthanasia?

The proposed bill sets out that all Spanish citizens or those resident in Spain will have the right to request a dignified death if they are suffering from “a serious and incurable disease” or a “chronic and severe disability” that makes life “unbearable”.

In order to qualify, the sufferer must have “in writing all the information about their condition” and “the different options available going forward including what palliative care can be offered”.

How is the request made?

The bill outlines that a first request to die must be made in writing, without pressure, and must be repeated 15 days later.

Within 48 hours of the second request being made, a doctor will assess the patient and provide “both verbally and in writing” details of the “diagnosis, possible treatment and expected results and options for palliative care”.

A further 24 hours after that consultation, the patient must repeat his desire to continue with his request for euthanasia and then the case is passed to a second doctor who has ten days to assess and determine whether the patient meets the criteria.

If the second doctor also agrees that the criteria is met, then the case is reviewed by a special commission to finally determine whether euthanasia is an option.

Those who are incapacitated can make provisions to express their wishes.

So doctors have to approve the right to die then?

The proposed bill is very careful to state that doctors do not approve the request for euthanasia but rather determine that the patient's condition meets the medical requirements set out in law – determining that the condition is “serious and incurable” or a “chronic disability”.

How will euthanasia take place?

Once consent is granted it is the patient who decides in what form the “help to die” is given, either euthanasia or assisted suicide: either the direct administration of a fatal dose of medication by a healthcare professional, or a prescription for such a dose to be taken by the patient themselves either at home or in a medical centre.

Can doctors refuse to carry out euthanasia?

If the patient meets the criteria to seek euthanasia then they are legally bound to say so, but medical professionals will be able to refuse to carry out euthanasia.

The new bill expressly states the right to conscientious objection and outlines that healthcare professionals who are opposed to euthanasia must state so in advance and in writing to be included in a register of those who object to the practice.

What if the patient is too incapacitated to state their desire for euthanasia?

This too is covered in the bill. Those who have expressed their desire legally in a “living will” when they were able to, can have the request made for them when their condition worsens to the point that they can no longer communicate.

How will the death be recorded?

The bill states that those whose death is facilitated through euthanasia will be recorded as “natural death”.

Do Spaniards support euthanasia?

The most recent poll, for Metroscopia last year, found 89 percent of Spaniards supported euthanasia for people with incurable conditions.

This is the third time in a year that the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has attempted to introduce the bill into Spain's parliament. But he now has the backing of Podemos as part of the left-wing coalition formed in January.

Who is opposed?

The Spanish Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently opposed any change to the law which twice failed to be passed.

“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 church stance is also supported by parties on the right including the Popular Party (PP) and Vox. Both parties are vehemently opposed to euthanasia decriminalisation and believe such situations should be managed with palliative care instead.

How does the bill compare to other legislation in countries that allow euthanasia?

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has long promised to make Spain the fourth country in the European Union to legalise euthanasia after Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In Switzerland assisted suicide is allowed.


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