ON the first anniversary of the introduction of an assisted suicide law in Spain, we take a look at the facts and figures to see just how extensive a practice it has become.
Spain became only the fourth country in the European Union to allow euthanasia when it passed a law on June 25, 2021 that allows people with ‘serious and incurable’ diseases or a condition which is ‘chronic or incapacitating’ and causing ‘intolerable suffering’ to request help to die.
Strict conditions must be met before a patient can choose to end their life, including being a Spanish national or legal resident and being ‘fully aware and conscious’ when they request the procedure.
The request to end their life must be submitted twice, 15 days apart and must be approved by a second medic and an evaluation body.
Requests can be turned down if they do not meet the criteria set out.
Another important clause is that doctors can decline to carry out the procedure if their conscience doesn’t allow it by registering as a ‘conscientious objector’ so that the patient can be referred to another medic.
So let’s look at the figures from the first 12 months since it came into force.
Spain has carried out 159 instances of euthanasia according to data collected by the Ministry of Health, while 18 requests were rejected because the cases didn’t meet the criteria.
Another 43 cases are currently under consideration.
The region which carried out the highest number of fulfilled euthanasia requests is Catalunya, with 60 people, far higher than the next highest of the Basque Country which saw 21 cases. Madrid carried out 19 and Valencia, 13.
Among those regions with the least is Extremadura, with only one case, and Aragon with three.
Although not all regions report how many requests they received, of those who did, Murcia had the highest acceptance rate of 80%, with Galicia on the other end of the scale at 21% accepted, though 79% remain under consideration.
Discrepancy clearly exists between regions. Andalucia did not set up its euthanasia commission until November, while in the Basque Country the first one was carried out in July.
Meanwhile, the availability differs from region to region.
Madrid has a list of 2,820 doctors registered as ‘conscientious objectors’ some 16 times the number registered in Catalunya, making it far harder to access assisted suicide in the capital.
María Jesús del Yerro Álvarez, president of Madrid’s euthanasia commission, told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that conscientious objectors ‘have been the main obstacle blocking patients from exercising their right to request assistance to die’.
President of Catalunya’s euthaniasia commission Albert Tuca said that the most common requests for the procedure come from sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis or dementia, followed by oncological diseases like cancer.
However, this trend was to be expected in the first year that the right was granted, given that these people have often lived with the effects of their diseases for many years.
It is expected that once the law has been in place for longer, the majority of people requesting euthaniasia will be terminal cancer patients, as is the case in other countries where it is legal.
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