Spanish lawmakers have legalized euthanasia, making Spain the fourth European country to permit all forms of assisted suicide.
In 1998, Ramón Sampedro made headlines when he died from assisted suicide. His death sparked a huge debate in Spain on euthanasia laws. Ramon was a fisherman and a writer who had suffered a diving accident in 1968, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. For 29 years he fought the Spanish courts for his legal right to end his life. Since his disability left him unable to kill himself, he devised a multi-step method for ending his life. The award-winning movie, ‘The Sea Inside’ was based on his story.
In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to decriminalize voluntary euthanasia. Since then, multiple other European countries have reassessed their laws regarding the act.
On Thursday, 18th March, Spanish lawmakers passed a law, legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide. The final vote count was 202 in favour, 141 against and 2 abstentions. The law will go into effect in three months. Prior to the legalization, assisting someone to end their life carried a jail term of up to 10 years in Spain. Although the law has gained huge support from multiple groups, the Church and far-right groups in Spain have largely opposed it.
The Good Death
In Greek, Euthanasia literally translates to ‘good death.’ The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, ‘painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma’. Most countries deem it illegal and consider it murder or manslaughter.
In comparison, assisted suicide is helping a patient commit suicide upon request, by providing them drugs for self-administration. It is legal in Switzerland and a few states in the US.
There are different categories of euthanasia. This includes voluntary, non-voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia involves ending a patient’s life with their consent. It is currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. On the other hand, non-voluntary euthanasia is conducted when patients are unable to consent themselves. Thus, someone else makes the decision based on the patient’s suffering. It is illegal all over the world. In comparison, involuntary euthanasia involves going against the patient’s will or without asking consent. It is deemed equal to murder and is illegal around the world.
Is Euthanasia an Act of Compassion or Crime?
Spain has now become the fourth European country to legalize euthanasia. As per the law, people with ‘serious, chronic illness with no chance of recovery and with unbearable suffering’ can choose to request help dying. However, the final decision rests with the doctor. If they feel the requirements are not met, he or she can reject the request.
For decades, there has been an ongoing debate among critics over euthanasia. These arguments stretch across legal, religious, ethical, health, economic, and cultural aspects. According to the religious argument, the decision to end a life only belongs to God. Therefore, committing euthanasia is disrespectful to God’s will and sin. The Catholic Church is one of the biggest critics of euthanasia. Other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism also share similar views.
Furthermore, a great number of medical professionals also oppose euthanasia. Stating it as a defiance of the Hippocratic Oath. Additionally, doctors fear that legalising the act can result in doctors abandoning their obligation to preserve life. Thus, resulting in a lack of compassion for the elderly or terminally ill patients.
Although there’s a great number of arguments opposing euthanasia, an overwhelming number also supports the decision. Human rights group often call it an act of kindness and a dignified way of dying for those suffering. However, the question of whether it is an act of compassion or crime continues to be subjective.