Spanish Congress approves first step toward a euthanasia law

Right-wing parties are accusing the coalition government of wanting to save on pension payments and healthcare costs through a “social engineering project”

Former Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo defended the euthanasia project in Congress.
Former Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo defended the euthanasia project in Congress.Chema Moya (EFE)
Oriol Güell

“Let whoever wants to live, live, but let the rest of us die with dignity.” With this quote uttered by Fernando Cuesta, a patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had to travel to Switzerland to end his life, Spain’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday began considering a bill to regulate euthanasia.

Introduced by the Socialist Party (PSOE), this is the first piece of legislation to reach the floor of the Congress of Deputies since the new government was sworn in last month. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the PSOE, heads a center-left coalition that also includes Unidas Podemos.

Support has been clear and consistent for more than a decade
Rafael Serrano del Rosal, director of the Institute for Advanced Social Studies-CSIC

With 201 votes in favor, 140 against – from the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the far-right Vox – and two abstentions, Congress agreed to consider the initiative, which will now enter a period of amendments and go to the congressional Health Committee for negotiations.

This is the third time that the text has been taken into consideration by the Spanish parliament, but Health Minister Salvador Illa expressed confidence that it could secure final passage by June.

It was the Socialist lawmaker and former Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo who quoted Cuesta as a way of acknowledging “all the individuals and families who did not remain idle, but who fought so that others may benefit from this right.”

The debate was at times highly emotional. José Ignacio Echániz, a PP lawmaker, accused the promoters of this bill of wanting to save money on pensions and medical treatment at the expense of the most vulnerable people. “This is the foundation of the social-engineering project that you are trying to promote,” he said.

We must decide who gets to decide how we die
Joseba Agirretxea, Basque Nationalist Party

Lourdes Méndez, of Vox, also accused supporters of the euthanasia bill of “telling people with unbearable suffering that their lives are not dignified. This is your answer to a bankrupt pensions system.”

“I find it very cruel to say that this is a matter of reducing costs,” replied Joseba Agirretxea, a deputy for the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). “This is not a medical debate, it is a social, ethical and political debate. We must decide who gets to decide how we die.”

Pablo Echenique, of Unidas Podemos, called the PP and Vox “people without scruples” and urged lawmakers to “rise to the challenge” this time around, after three failed attempts at introducing euthanasia legislation in Spain.

“This law in no way imposes the procedure on anyone,” noted Pedro Iturbe of the Canaries Coalition.

“Suffering has no ideology,” insisted former minister Carcedo before listing the main points of a piece of legislation that will turn euthanasia into a right to be “incorporated into the public healthcare system.”

This right will be recognized for those who request it and who have “a serious and incurable disease,” or an “incapacitating one,” that causes the patient “unbearable suffering.” But doctors will retain the right to conscientious objection.

Surveys from the state-funded Center for Sociology Studies (CIS) show that a majority of Spaniards is in favor of regulating euthanasia and assisted suicide. Polls show 58% support for the practice, with 10% expressing clear opposition. “Support has been clear and consistent for over a decade,” says Rafael Serrano del Rosal, director of the Institute for Advanced Social Studies-CSIC.

English version by Susana Urra.

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