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EUTHANASIA DEBATE

Catalonia to call on Spanish Congress to decriminalize euthanasia

Regional parliament approves motion to debate proposal to change Spanish penal code

The regional parliament of Spain's Catalonia region is to present a draft bill before the Spanish Congress aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia. On Thursday, all groups within the parliament with the exception of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and its center-right allies Ciutadans supported the first point of a motion presented by Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot (CSQP), a coalition led by the left-leaning anti-austerity party Podemos which proposes modifying the Spain's penal code via a draft law that is currently making its way through the Catalan regional parliament and enjoys the support of the majority of deputies there.

Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada.
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada.

The proposal joins another, broader one that Unidos Podemos, the coalition between the Communist Party and Podemos recently presented to Congress.

“What does a dignified death mean to each of us as individuals?” asked CSQP deputy Marta Ribas at Thursday’s presentation of the motion. The debate on the right to a dignified death was being put before the regional parliament in defense of, among other things, a change to the penal code so that euthanasia and assisted suicide would no longer be criminal offenses.

I did not see any legal barrier that would have prevented me from helping that patient

Marcos Ariel Hourmann

According to the Committee on Bioethics of Catalonia, euthanasia is an act carried out by third parties at the express and repeated request of a patient suffering physical or psychological pain as a result of an incurable disease that brings about a rapid, efficient and painless death. Assisted suicide is the act of a person suffering from an irreversible illness ending his or her life with the help of somebody who provides the knowledge and resources to do so.

The regional parliament agreed to set up a body charged with gathering information about the time and place of deaths in Catalonia. “One of the problems the DMD [the Catalan Right to a Dignified Death Association] showed us was that there is no data, or that the data is biased about how people die here. There is information provided on the death certificate, but we don’t know if [people] have received palliative care, if they have died where they wanted… subjective aspects, but that are related to the right to a dignified death,” said Ribas on Thursday.

The text presented on Thursday also makes demands for universal access to palliative care, a service that according to the Catalan regional government’s 2011–2015 Health Plan is already fully available. The regional government will now be required to present a report on whether patients really are being given access to palliative care if they wish it.

The regional parliament also called on the Catalan government to raise awareness through a media campaign about patients’ rights to make advance directives – a document that allows them to outline their wishes concerning medical treatments at the end of life. The Committee on Bioethics of Catalonia says “Advance directives cannot oblige actions that area against the law, but they can require respect in terms of not applying some treatments or to stop them if they are begun.”

The regional parliament also approved its “full support” for providing people in severe pain and in full possession of their faculties to decide and express their desire to die and to request help to do so. “We want each person to be able to decide on their own death. It is not a luxury, it is a right,” said Ribas.

An Observatory will gather data on the time and place of deaths in Catalonia

By contrast, the PP and Ciutadans argued that the right to a dignified death should be through better resources and palliative treatment, as well as appropriate medical assistance, rather than through euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“Human freedom lasts until the end of life,” said Isabel Alonso, the president of the Right to a Dignified Death Association, which is behind the motion. Also attending the debate on Thursday was Marcos Ariel Hourmann, the first doctor to be condemned for euthanasia in Spain.

In 2005, he injected a lethal substance into an 85-year-old woman suffering from an incurable disease at her express request, and with the support of her family. A case was brought against Hourmann by the Spanish public prosecutor’s office, which led to a one-year prison sentence.

“I did not see any legal barrier that would have prevented me from helping that patient. At the human level I believed it was what I had to do and I did it. I did not analyze the consequences and neither did I imagine they would be of this caliber,” said Hourmann.

He also admitted that he had paid a high price for his actions.

“It would be hypocritical to say that I am not sorry. Not for what I did in itself, because I would never be sorry for the human thing that happened, but I do regret the consequences because they were destructive for my family. But at the human and medical level, I did what I had to do,” said Hourmann.

Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada, as is medically-assisted suicide, which is also permitted in Switzerland and in some US states.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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