“The biggest challenge of the euthanasia law is overcoming prejudice”

This June 25, 2021, a debate that has lasted more than 20 years and that has faced patients, doctors, associations and politicians, has ended. Organic Law 3/2021 regulating euthanasia is already a reality in Spain after its approval in the Congress of Deputies. As of today, the sick who suffer “a serious and incurable disease”, a “serious, chronic and incapacitating disease” or a “constant and intolerable physical or mental suffering” they can decide when, where and how to end their life. The right to euthanasia is recognized.

The euthanasia law has been a path of hardship for those who have been fighting for this right to be recognized. Therefore, today is a historic day in which Spain joins the list of countries in which the practice is legal, such as Canada, Belgium and Luxembourg. One battle ends but another begins. The associations in favor of this law, such as the Right to Die with Dignity (DMD) have recalled that the fight for rights is daily and that despite the importance of the approval of this law, There is much to do.

First of all, because there are still doubts about certain aspects of the law. One of the most controversial points is the creation of guarantee commissions, who are in charge of giving the go-ahead to each request for euthanasia. They therefore have the power to reject or accept each case. The autonomous communities are in charge of creating these commissions. However, in most of them they have not yet chosen their members or have not even started the process to create them.

How Commissions Can Boycott Euthanasia Law

Fernando Marín, president of DMD, told Hipertextual that he hopes that regions such as Murcia They are not going to make it easy. “There is always a sector of the population that threatens to destroy the rights of others and if people want to exercise their rights, in some regions they will have to fight for them more than in others.”

Marín refers to cases such as that of one of the members of the commission in Murcia. Aurelio Luna Maldonado, professor of Legal Medicine, is one of the members of this group that the law contemplates is made up of at least seven members. Of which varied profiles are expected, between doctors, nurses and lawyers. Each community chooses the members of its commission and one of the fears of associations like DMD is that the group has a mostly conservative profile that may hinder requests for euthanasia.

We have the first case that this scenario is not impossible. Luna Maldonado wrote an article in El País last year against euthanasia and is now part of the commission of this autonomous community. “Citizens have to know that rights are not given away, they have to be fought every day. It has also happened with the law of interruption of pregnancy, “said Fernando Marín. However, he added that, after all, euthanasia is a fundamental right within an organic law. For this reason, DMD will be attentive to what happens in the coming months and, if they can see that the law is being boycotted in some regions of Spain, they will publicly denounce it.

Guarantee, even too much

Beyond the members that make up the guarantee commissions, these have been one of the most problematic points since the law was discussed. From the Government, it has opted to define it as one of the most guaranteeing. “Yes, it is the most guaranteed law but also the most bureaucratic and the one with the most unnecessary paperwork, “said Marín. He explains it to with this example:

“It is as if we are in favor of controlling the consumption of alcohol in drivers and we have a test that is reliable, such as blowing. Well, in addition to that, in Spain after each blow there will be a nurse who will draw your blood because it is safer Sure, it’s safer but it’s unnecessary. And it’s a complication. “

Fernando Marin

The positive point is that the doctor who applies the euthanasia has his back covered by the process that can take between 30 and 40 days from the patient initiating the request. It goes through several filters: the approval of two doctors and that of the commission.

Prejudices vs. euthanasia law

However, the biggest challenge of the law is much more complex. “Being able to overcome prejudices and some falsehoods that the fundamentalist discourse has put on the table and that make no sense.” A speech that goes through religious issues or unfounded fears such as euthanasia being applied to people who do not ask for it. And, of course, the debate over the quality of palliative care. The confrontation between care and freedom is false, says Marín, “and nobody wants to give up care but wants to decide how long they want to be cared for.” Therefore, the first obstacle of the euthanasia law is to leave all these ideas behind and that little by little they are diluted, as also happened with the abortion and equal marriage laws. “People will see that the euthanasia law is not a threat to anyone.”

“Nobody wants to give up care but wants to decide how long they want to be cared for”

In this context, another stumbling block will be to include the practice of euthanasia in medical practice. Health professionals have the right to conscientious objection and they can refuse to euthanize their patients. There are also doubts about this process, although for Fernando Marín, the most important thing is that doctors internalize that as of June 25 it will be the patient who decides if he wants to end his life. People have always been helped to die, he explained, but it was done to relatives or acquaintances, from home. Other people have gone to countries where this right was contemplated in the law or have found products on their own to end their life.

“Now what happens is that for the first time it is available to anyone who meets the requirements. The center of gravity of the decision is no longer that someone does you a favor, it is in the decision of the person.”

Fernando Marin

One fight ends and another begins

The euthanasia law is a milestone in the history of Spanish democracy. But also the beginning of a battle for people who want to exercise this right. This song sounds to us from other chapters such as the law of equal marriage and abortion, as Fernando Marín commented.

A period begins in which associations such as DMD will be attentive to the operation of this law. But it also ends the struggle of many people who have tried for years that everyone can exercise this right.

The best known story in Spain is surely that of Ramón Sampedro, thanks to Mar Adentro, but it is also that of many other people such as Rafael García, sick with ALS and who died in 2019 due to the ravages of the disease. García’s family told about their personal fight for a euthanasia law. Because if I could have chosen I would have chosen to die before and save suffering for himself and his family.

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