Spanish Congress to debate euthanasia bill

The government wants to make it legal for terminally ill patients to end their lives but faces opposition from conservatives

Today is the last day for political parties to present amendments to the bill.
Today is the last day for political parties to present amendments to the bill.Getty

Spain’s Popular Party (PP) has decided to unblock a bill to regulate euthanasia that was introduced in Congress by the Socialist Party (PSOE) this past spring.

But the move does not mean that Spanish conservatives agree that patients with an incurable disease should be helped to end their lives. On the contrary, the PP’s new president, Pablo Casado, wishes to showcase his complete opposition to the PSOE bill with a congressional debate and an alternative proposal.

There is a majority of lawmakers in favor of regulating euthanasia

The deadline for amendments ends today, and the PP is planning to propose a substitute text to wholly replace the PSOE’s bill, which views euthanasia as an individual right available to people suffering from “a serious and incurable disease with a limited life prognosis,” or “a serious, chronic and irreversible disability that causes them unbearable suffering.”

According to the PSOE bill, euthanasia would be available both through public and private healthcare, although doctors could declare themselves conscientious objectors. There would be changes to the criminal code, which currently makes euthanasia and physician-assisted death a crime.

But the PP opposes this idea, and its own proposal falls more in line with a separate initiative by the liberal party Ciudadanos on dignified death and palliative care. Several Spanish regions, including Madrid, already have laws regulating palliative care in the last stages of life, but none of them contemplate euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

There is clear support, and it’s been consistent through time for over a decade

Rafael Serrano-del-Rosal, researcher

A majority of lawmakers are in favor of regulating euthanasia – PSOE, Podemos, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Democratic Party of Catalonia (PdeCAT), representing 178 seats. These parties say that euthanasia and palliative care are complementary, and that even when the latter is fully developed and made available to everyone, there will still be some people who need a law allowing them to end their lives.

Congress will debate the issue on October 25. If the PP’s substitute text is rejected, as expected, the wording of the bill will be reworked by the parties, then be referred to the Justice Committee, and return to the floor for a vote. Because it would become an organic law, passage will require an absolute majority of 176 votes.

Together but divided

The parties in favor of regulating euthanasia disagree on the practicalities of the new law. The biggest stumbling block is the proposed creation of control committees charged with authorizing euthanasia when two doctors have agreed that a specific case meets the legal criteria. The PSOE and the PNV feel that these committees would mean “greater security for doctors and patients.” But Podemos and ERC feel that such oversight is unnecessary and restrictive, and point to countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, which lack them.

Opinion surveys consistently show that Spaniards are in favor of regulating euthanasia and assisted suicide. “There is a clear support, and it’s been consistent through time for over a decade,” says Rafael Serrano-del-Rosal, director of the Institute of Advanced Social Studies-CSIC.

In a study published this year by the Spanish Magazine for Sociology Studies, Serrano-del-Rosal says that 58% of Spaniards answered “yes” to the question of whether they support regulating euthanasia, compared with 10% who said they opposed it “with certainty.” Other respondents chose in-between options, with 15% saying “I think so, but I am not completely sure.” As for assisted suicide, 39% were in favor, 19% against and 14% were mostly favorable but had doubts.

English version by Susana Urra.

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