After Spain’s socialist party tried and failed twice last year to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, the lower house of the country’s parliament has now voted to consider a bill that would legalize the practices in certain circumstances.
According to Spanish newspaper El País, the bill was approved for consideration in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by 201 votes to 140, with two abstaining. It now goes through additional steps of consideration in a committee and by the Senate before a final vote.
If passed, the law would permit euthanasia or assisted suicide in cases of “clearly debilitating diseases without a cure, without a solution and which cause significant suffering,” government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montero told Reuters.
Voluntary euthanasia occurs when a doctor kills a patient at the patient’s request. Assisted suicide is the prescribing of a lethal dose of drugs by a doctor to a patient, who then administers the drugs themselves. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.
The bill being considered in Spain would legalize both procedures. It allows for conscientious objectors among doctors, although it stipulates that patients must be referred to alternate doctors.
According to the AP, the bill also stipulates that patients would not be made to wait more than a month after making their initial request for either euthanasia or assisted suicide. Initial requests will be considered by two doctors, and then a patient must make a subsequent request for the procedure, which will go to a committee for approval.
The bill has faced strong objections from the Catholic Church, as well as from the conservative People’s Party and the far-right party Vox.
In a statement on their website, the Spanish Bishop’s Conference said that the Church “has always considered euthanasia as a moral evil and an attack on the dignity of the person. St. John Paul II affirmed that ‘according to the Magisterium of my predecessors and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a serious violation of the Law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.’”
The bishops added that euthanasia and assisted suicide are “alien” to the field of medicine and violate the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors, which states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”
They also noted that the arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide as acts of autonomy are flawed. “...it is not possible to understand euthanasia and assisted suicide as something that refers exclusively to the autonomy of the individual, since such actions involve the participation of others, in this case, of health personnel,” they said.
The bishops said that instead of killing people, the country should instead bolster its palliative care efforts to ease the pain and suffering of the dying and to accompany their families and loved ones.
Vox spokesperson Rocio Monasterio told Reuters that her party will have “fierce” resistance against the bill, which calls for the “elimination” of people who are no longer useful to society.
Pope Francis has frequently condemned euthanasia, calling it a “sin against God” and saying that it is “based on a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”