Spain set to decriminalise euthanasia

Amid opposition from the Catholic Church, parliament approves a draft bill proposed by ruling Socialists.

Euthanasia has been decriminalised in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Colombia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, parts of Australia and several US states [File: Peter Komka/EPA-EFE]

Madrid, Spain – Spanish legislators have voted in favour of a draft bill that could see the country become the seventh in the world to decriminalise euthanasia, overcoming years of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and conservative politicians.

Legislators on Tuesday discussed a draft bill, proposed by the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), voting by 208 in favour to 140 against, with two abstentions.

The bill had support from the far-left Unidas Podemos, the centre-right Ciudadanos, and regional parties in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

The conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox opposed the draft legislation but failed to muster the necessary votes to block the bill.

The proposal will return for a final vote at some point later this year and could be law soon after.

Polls have shown public support for decriminalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in Spanish society.

Under the proposed legislation, patients will be able to apply to end their lives through the public healthcare system.

Currently, under Spanish law, helping somebody to die carries a potential five-year jail sentence and any person directly involved in causing another’s death can be tried for homicide and imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The draft bill stipulates that a person can only choose to die if they have a serious and incurable illness, or a chronic, severe disability. They must also be in a situation which makes life “unbearable”.

To qualify, they must be a Spanish citizen or a foreign national who is legally resident in the country.

A request to die must be made in writing, without pressure, and repeated after 15 days. Provisions are made for people who become incapacitated after giving instructions about their wishes.

Two different doctors must consider each case and then it is also examined by a separate commission.

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

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

The PSOE has modelled the bill on legislation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Euthanasia has been decriminalised in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Colombia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, parts of Australia and several US states.

Maria Luisa Carcedo, a Socialist MP and former health minister, said the bill would give Spanish people “a new right” which “will be regulated strictly so it is not misused”.

But the Popular Party said legalising the right to die was not the way to resolve this issue.

Cuca Gamara, an MP, said, “The way that we think we should proceed is in better palliative care for patients, where there is ample consensus in society.”

Isabel Alonso, president of the Association for the Right to Die, said at present the bill stipulated it should be managed by each of Spain’s 17 regions.

But she feared that in conservative-run areas, patients may be refused because of political bias.

“At present, this is part of the law so it could mean that if you want to die in places where the regional government is conservative and opposes this law, they might make it harder for people. We hope this part of the law is removed as it is not like this in other countries,” she told Al Jazeera.

Medical organisations have expressed their concern at the new law, fearing it could mean they would be required to help patients to die.

Juan Jose Rodriguez Sendin, president of the ethics committee of the Organisation of Medical Colleges, told Al Jazeera, “The profession has to preserve life, respect the autonomy of the patient and serve their interests. It seems that the new law will regulate the situation of only one part of this [that of the patient’s wish to die]. This is what concerns us.”

Euthanasia first became a major issue on Spain’s political agenda after the success of a 2004 film, The Sea Inside, in which Javier Bardem played Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic sailor.

The success of the film increased political pressure for a change in the law, but the idea was shelved after a campaign by the church.

Source: Al Jazeera