In March, a law unprecedented by Catholic Spain was passed, which makes euthanasia legal in the country. But its implementation is complicated by a number of federal states and some doctors. For them, the Netherlands is the spectre of a practice that has gone out of control.
Spain is now the fifth country in the world with a euthanasia law, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada. But it is not easy to put Spanish law into practice, because health care is organised by state. It means that 17 Länder will have to come up with 17 committees to ensure proper compliance with the euthanasia law.
Javier Velasco, Chairman of the Euthanasia Association Dying, says that in regions where conservative parties govern, the implementation of the law is seriously inhibited. His fear is that people wishing to apply for euthanasia will soon have to travel to other parts of Spain in practice.
“ There can be a back-and-forth travel by people who want to invoke the law, a kind of euthanasia tourism,” says Velasco. “Thats what happens with abortion. Women have to travel to other Länder because their own region makes the implementation of the law more difficult.”
Law resembles Dutch law
The Spanish law on euthanasia, which is due to enter into force at the end of June, is similar to the Dutch. The text speaks of people asking for help at the end of their lives because of “a serious, incurable disease, or a serious, chronic suffering that makes life impossible”.
Apart from conflicting Länder, conservative organisations are still trying to get the law undone by means of a dispute before the Constitutional Tribunal. The President of the Medical College in Madrid is also concerned. According to him, the advent of the law means a sliding scale, causing euthanasia to get out of control.
For example, practice in the Netherlands would frighten older people to go to a nursing home for fear of being killed, according to the doctor Manuel Martínez-Selles. “In the Netherlands and Belgium euthanasia is carried out in disabled children and elderly people with Alzheimers,” he says. According to him, therefore, the professional ethics prohibits doctors from cooperating in the implementation of the law.
One who is looking forward to the introduction of the euthanasia law is Rafael Botella. He was paralyzed from his chest to his toes in a serious car accident, killing his girlfriend. The last few years, hes only been in bed with constant pain.
“ When the moment comes when Im not happy anymore, that law is my last bullet,” says Botella. “Then I want to be able to use it. Without anyone stopping me. Maybe Ill never use that bullet. But I want that chance.”
Afraid of dying he is not after years of pain, says Botella to our correspondent:
It is expected that a request for euthanasia will eventually be made in Spain in 1% of deaths. Converted, it is about 4000 requests per year.