Analysis. A long applause greeted the approval of the law proposed by the Socialists and Unidas Podemos. Only Vox and Popular Party opposed.

Spanish parliament approved the right to euthanasia after two decade struggle

Thursday was a historic day in the Parliament in Madrid. Spain has become the seventh country in the world (the fourth in Europe) to guarantee the right to euthanasia. With the law definitively approved by the Congress of Deputies, the legal system has welcomed a new right, the one to a dignified death. Public health will have to include this among the services offered throughout the country. All parties were in favor of this law, proposed by the Socialists and Unidas Podemos, with the exception of Vox and Popular Party.

Spanish society has been debating the issue for more than 20 years now. In 2004, director Alejandro Amenabar, in Mare dentro, recounted the story of Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic who finally managed to end his life in 1998 after years of struggle to obtain the right to assisted suicide. The case had an enormous echo in the media, and Izquierda Unida was the first party to present a bill to change the situation. At the time, it obtained only 25 votes: now, more than 20 years later, the votes in favor in Congress were 202 (out of 350).

There were numerous dramatic stories these years of people who have fought for this right, all recalled on Thursday during the final debate: from Maria José Carrasco, the woman with advanced multiple sclerosis who had begged her husband to help her die (her husband is on trial for administering the lethal drug), to Maribel Tellaetxe, who had asked her children and husband to help her die when Alzheimer’s disease erased their names from her memory, to Antoni Monguilod, a Parkinson’s patient who for years had asked his wife to help him die, but the latter didn’t want to get in trouble like Carrasco’s husband. According to polls such as the one by Metroscopia, the level of public support for this is now around 90% (it was only 50% in the 1990s).

The new law, which aligns Spain with countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada and Colombia, provides that residents in Spain for at least a year, of age, who are suffering from “a serious and incurable illness” or “a chronic disease, serious and incapacitating,” which causes “intolerable physical and mental suffering,” who are capable of understanding and will, in “an autonomous, conscious and informed manner,” can make use of this new right. They will have to make a written request (unless they are unable to do so), after being informed in writing, according to the requirements, about their state of health and the palliative care alternatives available. The decision may be included in the living will or equivalent document, and may be revoked or delayed at any time.

The request must be repeated after 15 days: at that point, a second doctor will be consulted, who will have to draw up a report. Then a regional multidisciplinary guarantee committee will come into play, which in two days will have to appoint a doctor and a jurist. In one week, they will have to determine whether all the requirements have been met. The patient can appeal against a negative decision. The whole process will take about a month.

The manner may be that of active euthanasia (with the intervention of doctors) or that of assisted suicide (the patient will be able to administer the drug), and may take place in hospital, clinic or at home. Doctors will have the right to conscientious objection. The approval of the law was greeted by a long round of applause by the parliamentarians present in the hall (the others participated through videoconference), while the Vox deputies exhibited signs threatening to file an appeal at the Constitutional Court (they have the right to do so, as they have more than 50 deputies).

The law will be in force after three months from the publication in the Official Gazette, but already since Friday, the autonomous communities will be able to start the procedure to appoint the committees. This was the only amendment approved in the Senate, along with the possibility that nurses would also be part of the committees. There will have to be at least seven people on each, but the criteria are left to the local governments.

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