Spain has become the fourth country in Europe and the fifth in the world to legalise euthanasia.  Parliament last month voted by 202 votes favour to 141 against, although the Catholic Church and others say they will appeal the decision. 

The change, which gathered support from left and centre political groups, will legalise the actions of medical staff who intentionally end a life to relieve suffering, as well as assisted suicide in which it is the patient who carries out the procedure. 

The legislation states that the patient must also be suffering “a serious or incurable disease or a serious, chronic and incapacitating condition,” which causes them “intolerable suffering.”  Such patients must be “fully aware and conscious” when making the request, which has to be submitted twice in writing, 15 days apart.  To avoid so called “euthanasia tourism,” patients will also have to be either a Spanish national or have been a legal resident in Spain for at least 12 months.   A medical professional will be entitled to reject the request if these requirements have not been met. 

Requests will then have to be approved by a second doctor and by a regional commission of at least seven medical and legal representatives.  It is expected that the whole procedure will take a month to complete, although some critics say that allowing each region to appoint its own commission may result in making euthanasia easier to achieve in some areas than in others. 

Doctors will be able to withdraw from taking part in the procedure on grounds of “conscience.”

However, the legislation to legalise the procedure, which will become available through the country’s national health service, has been roundly condemned by Spain’s right and far-right groups.  Some doctors have also raised questions about its planned implementation, while others have called for a palliative care law instead. 

The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada have already decriminalized the procedure fully, while Switzerland permits some forms of assisted suicide.  Portugal’s parliament passed a similar law in January but it was blocked by the country’s Constitutional Court last month.