First step to euthanasia law gets green light in Spanish congress

The proposal giving people a right to ‘die with dignity’ was approved in the lower chamber

Ángel Hernández, who helped his wife die in April 2019, went to the Catalan Parliament on June 19, 2019 to defend the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted death (Marta Sierra/ACN)
Ángel Hernández, who helped his wife die in April 2019, went to the Catalan Parliament on June 19, 2019 to defend the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted death (Marta Sierra/ACN) / Cristina Tomàs White

ACN | Barcelona

February 12, 2020 02:31 PM

The Spanish Congress has given the green light to the processing of the euthanasia law, proposed by the ruling Socialist party. The initiative received 203 votes in favour out of the 343 deputies present in the chamber and 140 votes against.

This is the third attempt at decriminalizing the act of euthanasia in the chamber.

Presenting the proposal in congress was former Spanish health minister and Socialist MP, María Luisa Carcedo, who began her speech by quoting the words of a patient suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease: "Who wants to live, lives, but whoever wants to die, die with dignity."

In her speech, Carcedo stated that "pain has no ideology." The former minister argued that the law will give people a "new right," without any obligation, and "with all guarantees."

Only the People’s Party – barring one MP who voted in favour – Vox, and Navarra Suma voted against the euthanasia law.

Catalan health minister Alba Vergés was interviewed by Catalan News on the matter last year, and she argued that lawmakers have “the responsibility to answer to the people," as she says almost 80% of people in Catalonia believe euthanasia and assisted suicide should be available to those who choose to access them.

Vergés is a long-time believer in the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, as the Spanish penal code punishes anyone found guilty of such with prison sentences up to ten years.

Case that shocked Spain

The issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide was brought back into the spotlight in April 2019, when it transpired that Ángel Hernández helped his wife with a severe case of MS, María José Carrasco, die.

Carefully documenting their story, he set up a camera in their living room and is show on tape asking her if she wanted to go ahead with their plans. After unequivocally assenting, Hernández placed a glass containing a fatal substance and a straw in front of her.  

Hernández told Catalan News that they had “Decided to [share their story] to make people speak of the [need to approve a] euthanasia law,” even though he could still face charges in an ongoing case against him for assisting her.

He also spoke at the Catalan parliament in June with the Association Right to Die with Dignity of his experiences and of the need to change the law in Spain.

Doctors and control commissions

The law governing euthanasia sets out that there must be informed consent from the patient, as long as they can freely request it. In other cases, family members such as partners, parents, children, or siblings may do so.

It also states that it will apply in cases of severe, chronic, invalidating, or incurable illnesses that are associated with "constant and intolerable physical or mental suffering," and when there is also at least a high probability that the suffering will persist over time without the possibility of healing or improvement.

In all cases in which the request, made in two written requests, is approved, it will be the healthcare staff who will undertake the required tasks. However, the regulations also contemplate the conscientious objection of physicians, which may be denied but will facilitate another doctor.

In fact, the evaluation will be done by two doctors who will evaluate the patient and refer their case to a control and evaluation commission, which will analyze it again.

Spanish minister for health Salvador Illa hopes that the euthanasia law will be fully passed by June. In congress, Illa emphasized that a "very important step forward" in the regulation of euthanasia has been made, and argued that the text "gives guarantees" and reflects the opinion of a "very large social majority."