Pro-life supporters’ appeals fail to reverse Huelva euthanasia decision

Andalusia regional government approved family’s wishes to remove life support

Two courts in Huelva have dismissed appeals by pro-life groups to stop a hospital from removing a terminal patient from life support. The order to remove the nasogastric tube, a pioneering decision in Spain, came from the regional government of Andalusia on behalf of the relatives of Ramona Estévez, a 91-year-old woman in an irreversible coma following a stroke.

The decision strikes down an attempt by the Right to Life Association to maintain Estévez alive despite her own express wish not to be. The bishop of Huelva, José Vilaplana, criticized the decision and called it "an act of euthanasia in which death is caused not by the disease, but by thirst and hunger (provoked by removing the tube)." Euthanasia remains illegal in Spain.

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But the Federal Association for the Right to a Dignified Death, which provided legal advice to Estévez's family, expressed satisfaction and said that "finally, the justice system is beginning to be sensitive to this type of cause." Through its Facebook page, this group said it was happy about a legal decision that "does not encourage" claims by what it called "the most reactionary" sectors of society.

This group helped José Ramón Páez, Ramona's son, to file a complaint with the Andalusian health department, asking it to apply a regional piece of legislation called the Dignified Death Law, which went into effect in 2010 and allows for terminal sedation and patients' rejection of medical treatment. The Socialist government has approved a similar draft at the national level, although it has yet to pass through Congress. After Andalusia, Aragón and Navarre adopted similar laws.

The Andalusian health department said that "rejection of the treatment" is "perfectly contemplated" in Andalusian legislation.

The children of Ramona Estévez told the courts that they were merely "complying with our mother's wishes." The woman suffered a stroke on July 26, which left her in "an irreversible state," according to hospital staff.

Meanwhile, Ramona Estévez remained in a deep coma on Monday, "without any apparent signs of suffering or pain," Europa Press reported.

The controversy began early last week, when the media picked up on Ramona's case. Supporters and detractors of removing life support got moving, and the Andalusian health department backed the family, which had previously asked the hospital, to no avail, to remove the tube. "They'd turned her into a blood-pumping machine. And that may work technically, but it is inadmissible and inhumane," said her son, José Ramón Páez. The hospital, which is private but receives public funding from regional authorities, complied with regional orders and removed the tube.

The government of Andalusia said that its own legislation establishes "every person has the right to reject the intervention suggested by health professionals, following a process of information and decision-making, even if it puts their life at risk." According to Paéz, his mother "did not want to spend the rest of her life attached to some tubes."

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