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Hendriks: Spanish euthanasia law important, but with teething problems

Earlier this year, Spain passed a law that legalises euthanasia and assisted suicide. Spain is now the fourth country in Europe with such a law. Its introduction, however, is not plain sailing.

Spain is now the fourth country in Europe with a law that legalises euthanasia, following the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The law took effect on 25 June 2021. Since then, a number of people in Spain have passed away ‘with dignity’, as the legislature says, by euthanasia or assisted suicide. But there is also one patient who committed suicide because it took too long to deal with their request. 

On 3 November 2021, a conference was held in Bilbao to discuss the law’s implementation. Besides Aart Hendriks, Professor of Health Law, Leiden GP Adriaan Goslinga was also invited. All other speakers were GPs, legal experts and journalists. The member of parliament who had drafted the law was also present.

The full recording (in Spanish) of the event is available here:

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In contrast to the Netherlands, Spanish GPs who are considering performing euthanasia or assisted suicide must request an assessment in advance from a regional committee. This gives GPs the assurance that they will not be prosecuted. In the Netherlands, this assessment is done afterwards – which means the euthanasia can take place more quickly, but that the GP is left in uncertainty for some weeks as to whether they will be prosecuted or not.

Many patients have already asked their GP to include a euthanasia declaration in their file. Not all GPs know how to act on this. In many Spanish provinces, evaluation committees have still to be set up. This means that it is still not possible to perform euthanasia in those places. It also appears that various legal experts and doctors who are members of an evaluation committee are against euthanasia and assisted suicide. This affects the chances of a positive evaluation. One patient, in any event, committed suicide because the procedure was taking so long. Nevertheless, Spanish doctors’ organisations do provide their members with a lot of information on what to do and what not to do in the case of a request for euthanasia.  

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