Euthanasia and assisted dying legalised in Spain: Where are we now with death with dignity laws?
Published 25 Mar 2021 • By Courtney Johnson
Highly debated in both the medical community and at large, euthanasia and assisted dying has long been a controversial and emotive topic. After decades of national and legislative discussion, Spain has legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide, opening the door for terminally ill patients to make their own end-of-life decisions.
What exactly has been put into law? What are the conditions to be met for assisted dying in Spain? What is the status of death with dignity laws in the United Kingdom?
We explain it all below!
Spain legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide after years of debate
Following a 17 December vote in the Congress of Deputies and ratification by the Senate on March 18, euthanasia and assisted suicide is now legal in Spain. After decades of debate and previous failed attempts, the law was approved and Spain has become one of the few countries to allow terminally ill or gravely injured patients to end their own suffering.
Specifically, the new Spanish legislation will allow active euthanasia - when medical staff deliberately end a life to relieve suffering - and assisted suicide - when the patient ends his or her own life, guided by a third party who has previously provided them with the information and/or means to carry it out. The procedure will be available through Spain’s national health service.
When the legislation takes effect in June 2021, Spain will join three other countries in Europe that have decriminalized assisted suicide - Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands - as well as Canada and New Zealand, making it the sixth country worldwide to acknowledge the patient’s right to an assisted death.
>>> To learn more about the different forms of assisted dying and how Carenity members feel about the subject, read our article: “Assisted suicide: How patients and families really feel” <<<
Strict criteria for approval
While the landmark legislation received cross-party support from both leftist and conservative parliamentarians, it was passed on the condition that a number of strict criteria be put in place.
Anyone with a “serious or incurable” illness or a “chronic or debilitating” condition will be eligible, but the patient must be a Spanish national or legal resident and must be “fully aware and conscious” when they ask to end their life, which must be done twice in writing, 15 days apart.
The patient’s request must be approved by an oversight board and may be rejected if it is felt that any of the above requirements have not been met. Additionally, any healthcare professional may refuse to participate in the procedure on grounds of conscience.
What is the status of death with dignity laws in the UK?
The Suicide Act of 1961 has made assisting, aiding or counselling somebody in relation to taking their own life, a criminal offence which is punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment. However, on a case by case basis, authorities may decide not to prosecute depending on the context and circumstances of death. Patients are also allowed to refuse any treatment and they may write their will in advance directives that healthcare professionals have to follow.
In recent years, an Assisted Dying Bill has been introduced in the House of Lords, notably as recent as 2014, 2015, 2016 and January 2020. It is currently awaiting second reading.
While euthanasia remains illegal, terminally ill patients, their loved ones and patient organisations such as Dignity in Dying and My Death, My Decision (MDMD) continue their campaigns to make patients’ voices heard and to expand the right of every terminally ill patient to make their own end-of-life decisions.
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