Spanish parliament approves bill to legalise euthanasia

Spain's parliament voted by a wide margin Thursday to approve a bill that will allow euthanasia under strict conditions, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic church and conservative parties.

Spanish parliament approves bill to legalise euthanasia
A protestor outside Spain's parliament in February. Photo: AFP

The bill, introduced by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority government, passed with 198 votes in favour and 138 against. There were two abstentions.

It still faces a vote in the Senate early in 2021 where it is also expected to pass.

The draft law will allow someone suffering from a “serious and incurable disease” or from a “debilitating or chronic condition” which the person feels is “unbearable” to receive assistance to die.   

The request to die must be made in writing and be reaffirmed two weeks later. The demand must then be accepted by two doctors, then examined by a commission before the green light is given.

The cost of the procedure will be covered by the public health system and medical professionals will have the right to “object on grounds of conscience”.    

“As a society, we cannot remain impassive in the face of the intolerable suffering of some people,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said during the debate in parliament before the vote.

But the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP), which voted against the bill along with the far-right Vox, accused the government of “rushing” the vote to prevent a “serious debate”.

The proposed law is “a defeat for everyone, a failure of our health system and our society,” said PP lawmaker Jose Ignacio Echuniz, who called instead for greater use of palliative care for seriously ill people.

Vox vowed to challenge the law in Spain's constitutional court.   

Euthanasia and assisted suicide currently can currently be punished with jail terms of between two to ten years, but the sentence can be reduced if the person is terminally ill or enduring severe suffering and has asked to die.

The parliamentary vote comes 23 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” by director Alejandro Amenabar which won the best foreign film Oscar in 2005.

READ MORE: What you need to know about Spain's proposed euthanasia laws

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TODAY: Spain’s euthanasia law comes into effect

A law legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide came into effect in Spain Friday, making the country one of a few to allow terminally-ill or gravely-injured patients to end their own suffering.

TODAY: Spain's euthanasia law comes into effect
A man holds a placard reading "To choose to die without suffering" during a demonstration in support of the law legalising euthanasia Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

The legislation, which was passed by parliament in March, “responds to the existing social demand on the matter” and contains “safeguards” on the implementation of euthanasia, the health ministry said in a statement

Spain is the fourth European nation to decriminalize assisted suicide after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The law was drafted following public pressure generated by several high-profile cases, notably that of Ramon Sampedro whose plight was immortalized in the Oscar-winning 2004 film “The Sea Inside”.

It permits euthanasia in which medical staff intentionally end a life to relieve suffering, and assisted suicide in which it is the patient who carries out the procedure.

Anyone with a “serious or incurable illness” or a “chronic or incapacitating” condition can now request help dying to avoid “intolerable suffering”.

The patient must be a Spanish national or a legal resident and “fully aware and conscious” when they make the request, which has to be submitted twice in writing, 15 days apart.

A doctor can reject the request if the requirements have not been met. It must be approved by a second medic and by an evaluation body.

Any medic can withdraw on grounds of “conscience” from taking part in the procedure that will be available via Spain’s national health service.

But the legislation has drawn stark opposition from the Catholic Church and from Spain’s political right, with the main opposition Popular Party filing an appeal against the law on Thursday at the Constitutional Court.