Euthanasia is getting closer every day in Spain. After more than 25 years of failed attempts and social and political debate, Congress this Thursday took one of the definitive steps to pass a law that makes our country the fourth in Europe and one of the few in the world to regulate the right to a dignified death. The opinion that came from the Justice Commission it has achieved broad support, with 198 votes in favor, 138 against and two abstentions. PP, Vox and UPN have been the only parties that have rejected the rule, which decriminalizes helping sick people to die in certain situations and when they request it.
At the gates of the right to euthanasia in Spain
The law only has to pass through the Senate to become a reality. Given the refusal of Vox to incorporate this point in the ordinary session this week, the Board of Spokespersons decided to convene an extraordinary plenary session and arrive at Christmas with the rule practically consummated. The text, promoted by the PSOE, introduces into the legal system "a new individual right", the right to euthanasia, which can be requested in a context of suffering "that the person experiences as unacceptable and that has not been mitigated by others media". The autonomy and freedom of the patient are thus protected, the rule reasons, because "there is no constitutional duty to impose or protect life at all costs and against the will" of the person.
In practice, it is a legal framework that decriminalizes the fact of providing help to die in limited situations, either actively, which is when a doctor ends the patient's life at his request, or in the form of 'assisted suicide', which refers to the person who kills himself with the assistance of a doctor, who provides him with the necessary means and takes care of him in the process. You must be of legal age and suffer a "serious and incurable" disease or a "serious, chronic and incapacitating condition" that causes "intolerable physical and mental suffering." In addition, it has to be "capable" of acting and deciding and doing it in an "autonomous, conscious and informed way." Physicians shall have the right to conscientious objection.
Although the groups had already shown their positions in the Justice Commission, the debate in the plenary session has once again reflected the support of the majority of the chamber, which has highlighted the advance in rights that the norm entails. Almost all of them have also dedicated their approval to the associations, individuals and families that have been fighting for decades to make this happen, sometimes making their cases public. From Ramón Sampedro, who in the 90s requested his right to end his life, to Luis de Marcos, Maribel tellaetxe, Antoni Monguilod or Maria Jose Carrasco, the woman her husband helped to die, Ángel Hernández.
"A historic day"
María Luisa Carcedo, PSOE Health spokesperson and promoter of the regulation, has celebrated the introduction in Spain of "a new civil right that makes us free and advance in freedom." An "absolutely guaranteeing" law, despite the fact that "some speeches that we hear here say that it is imposed from the State", while it is "the person and the patient who decides in a situation of extreme suffering", he has described. Carcedo has regretted that the right is opposed to it and recalled that "every time a right is debated in this Parliament, they engage in apocalyptic battles, but after a while, they assume it and after a little more, they practice it."
For her part, from United We Can, the deputy Rosa María Medel has called the plenary session "a historic day" and has remarked that "the law does not imply opposition and is intended to guarantee the exercise of personal autonomy", while some formations such as Bildu or ERC have also regretted some points such as the prior control that the patient's request must follow apart from medical filters, which they consider can turn the process "into an ordeal". However, they have celebrated that the legal system "is about to end" with the "condemnation of people who suffer inhuman and irreversible suffering", in the words of ERC deputy Pilar Vallugera Balañà.
The PP and Vox, which presented alternative texts rejected last September, have wielded harsh reproaches against the rest of the groups, whom they have accused of approving the law "with nocturnal and treacherousness," according to PP deputy José Ignacio Echániz , which has received long applause from the popular caucus after his speech. In his opinion, it is "an unjust, inappropriate and unconstitutional law" that "does not respond to any social demand except that of the euthanasia lobby." The parliamentarian has insisted on calling for the development of palliative care as an alternative, which "does dignify human life", something that the rest of the parties also demand, but not as a substitute for euthanasia.
In fact, from Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas has also claimed support for a palliative care law, but has insisted on differentiating it as "complementary rights." The deputy stressed that "no one loses rights today" and pointed out that it is a "guarantee" model that allows "respecting the right to be able to live our lives or end them according to our own convictions." Arrimadas also wanted to address the deputies of the PP and Vox, whom he reminded that just as they were not in favor of abortion or equal marriage "it is not surprising that they do not agree today."
For its part, the extreme right has reiterated that it will appeal the rule to the Constitutional Court, which the deputy Lourdes Méndez has called "inhumane and ruthless." The parliamentarian has accused the parties that support her of "introducing the death industry in Spain", comparing it to abortion and has predicted "terrifying consequences" of being applied. "It is a tragedy for Spain and the Spaniards. In the midst of a pandemic, and a week before Christmas, while the death of our elders is mourned and while the world celebrates the death of the son of God, you celebrate the destruction of our culture to replace it for the culture of death, "he said.
The keys to the law
The law provides that it will be a public benefit included in the portfolio of common services of the National Health System and that it may be carried out in public, private or concerted health centers, and in the home itself. At any time, the person requesting it can revoke their request and must have Spanish nationality, legal residence or have a registration certificate that proves at least 12 months of permanence in Spain. It will also have to go through several filters in which at least two different doctors must authorize the request and a Guarantee and Evaluation Commission will do a prior control. All this with stipulated deadlines that can only be shortened if death is "imminent" and after a "deliberative procedure" between the health care provider and the patient on their diagnosis, therapeutic possibilities and expected results, as well as on possible palliative care. Information that the law requires the applicant to receive in writing.
However, society seems to have already anticipated politics and largely supports the legalization of euthanasia. According to a 2019 survey by Metroscopy, supported by 87% of citizens and another IPSOS of 2018 placed the support at a similar figure, around 85%. With this law, Spain will become the fourth European country to allow euthanasia, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - assisted suicide is allowed in Switzerland. Outside the continent it exists in Canada and Colombia, where it is a right, but there is no law. There are regulations on assisted suicide in several states in the United States and also in Victoria, Australia.