Spanish Congress receives a million signatures in favor of euthanasia

In the wake of controversial arrest of man who helped his wife end her life, three citizen initiatives convey popular support for a legal change to decriminalize the practice

Carmen Morán Breña
Ángel Hernández, after making a statement to the authorities about having helped his wife to end her life.
Ángel Hernández, after making a statement to the authorities about having helped his wife to end her life.Carlos Rosillo

Spain still has no government in sight as politicians struggle to hammer out power-sharing deals in the wake of the April 28 election. But in the meantime, citizens have decided to send a message to their political leaders. On Friday, Congress is to be presented with one million signatures requesting legal changes to decriminalize euthanasia.

Support remains stable through time and across ideologies

Rafael Serrano del Rosal, CSIC

More than 600,000 people signed a petition on Change.org started by a doctor named Marcos Hourmann, asking prosecutors not to press charges against a man who was arrested after helping his terminally ill wife die and recording the last moments in a video that made world headlines. Ángel Hernández gave his wife, María José Carrasco, a drink with a deadly substance after asking her one last time if this was what she wanted. Carrasco’s advanced multiple sclerosis made it difficult for her to swallow the liquid.

Meanwhile Txema Lorente, who watched his wife die without being able to honor his promise to help her go when her Alzheimer’s no longer let her recognize loved ones, has collected more than 374,000 signatures on the same online platform. And María Asunción Gómez, widow of Luis de Marcos, has added a further 99,000 people supporting the same legislative reform.

Euthanasia is one of those issues where society appears to move faster than politics. Surveys carried out in the last few decades unequivocally show popular support of around 84% for laws regulating it. The latest Sociómetro survey in the Basque Country showed 86% support.

The palliative care ward at a Seville hospital.
The palliative care ward at a Seville hospital.Julián Rojas

“Support remains stable through time and across ideologies, with barely a bump when it touches on religious beliefs. This tells us that the idea has matured socially, that it wants to have the right to this way out,” explains Rafael Serrano del Rosal, a researcher at the Institute of Advanced Social Studies at the Superior Scientific Council (CSIC).

In 2018, the Socialist Party (PSOE) presented a bill to decriminalize euthanasia that Ciudadanos blocked. “What we want now is for this bill to go ahead. Any law that emerges will mean progress. If it is on a case-by-case basis, some people will be left out, but it will still be progress,” says David Lorente, the son of Maribel Tellaetxe, who died on March 6 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

But political parties continue to tiptoe around the subject. Marcos Hourmann, an Argentinean doctor who was the first physician to be convicted in Spain for euthanizing a patient, was facing a 10-year prison term but managed to avoid it with support from the deceased’s family. That was in 2005.

People are not going to line up for euthanasia, like some people say Rafael Serrano del Rosal, president of the End-of-life Research Network

“And here we are, still. These days the left and the right are fighting over agreements to form a government, but their deals make no mention of this issue,” says Hourmann. “We know it’s summer, but we’ve decided that with this political instability, it would be good to present politicians with these signatures as a finger-in-the-eye move to make them stop playing their partisan games.”

“Euthanasia has been framed as part of the political dispute, not as a debate about the rights or needs of citizens. One party decided it had to position itself as ‘pro-life’ and so the others had to be ‘pro-death.’ And this is the heavy-handed way in which the matter has been treated, despite the level of popular support for it,” notes Rafael Serrano del Rosal, who is also president of an organization called Red de Investigación sobre el Final de la Vida (End-of-life Research Network) that brings together philosophers, doctors, sociologists and other experts.

Serrano del Rosal says that existing fears about euthanasia are due to popular arguments of the type that some people just don’t want to take care of their loved ones, or that if you open up that door, later we will have eugenics and start terminating anyone who is deemed undesirable.

But empirical studies refute this, he says. “People are not going to line up for euthanasia, like some people say. We’ve seen that this is not the case in Belgium, where it has been legal for a long time. There are people who are suffering and who simply don’t want to be here, and that affects the rich and the poor alike.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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