Monday, August 15

The Euthanasia Law and its detractors: how to kill it without touching a comma

The law that decriminalizes euthanasia in Spain is now one year old. For this reason, we are witnessing a sum of analyzes on its effectiveness and opportunity, while the ultra-Catholic hosts, together with PP and Vox, take the opportunity to attack its principles and align themselves with that ultra-conservative current that claims to defend life and that actually defends the extirpation of civil rights won after a tough democratic battle.

Given that it is time to take stock, it is convenient to contrast some reliable data on the incidence of this Law in Spanish society, compared with what it had in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium 20 years ago, when the decriminalization laws were enacted there. During this first year, around 180 aids to die with dignity have been practiced in Spain. A simply ridiculous figure when compared to what existed then in Holland (1,615) or Belgium (345) and if we take into account that our population is 2.5 times that of Holland and 4 times that of Belgium. I note that in these same countries, the latest annual figures are around 7,000 and 3,000 cases, respectively, which leads one to think of figures close to 10,000 cases of euthanasia per year in Spain as something normal in our environment.

That the figure seems exorbitant to us perhaps has to do with that campaign of harassment and demolition of the Law by indirect means. Indeed, I believe that certain regional governments are using the development of the Law to achieve its decline. I explain. The procedure established in it for the recognition of help to die with dignity is always initiated at the request of the sick person (or whoever said person has designated in their Living will) and inexorably requires the authorization of a Guarantee and Evaluation Commission. The Law gives these Commissions a regional scope and they have been created by decree throughout this year, with the only requirements that the minimum number of members be 7 and that they be multidisciplinary, with the presence of “personal doctors, nurses and lawyers”. They have been joined in certain regions by social workers, because of pressure from their schools.

Under these few premises, the regional governments have absolute discretion to appoint the members of these Commissions without being subject to any requirement of training, experience or ideology, which allows them to appoint 7 or 10 illustrious -or most illustrious- radically opposed to euthanasia . I am not saying that these Committees necessarily had to include “university professors”, -as required by Belgian legislation-, but the fact that among 17 regional Commissions only two highly specialized professors in the subject have been appointed is striking. (Carmen Tomás-Valiente and Leticia Jericó in the Balearic Islands and Navarra, respectively), while in the rest a bureaucratic health profile predominates that suggests control from the respective regional governments, many of which are held by parties opposed to euthanasia. It is possible to perceive here the stench of mistrust towards an institution like the University, which accredits not only the best research in all subjects but also an independence of criteria constitutionally sealed under the invocation of “academic freedom”.

You don’t have to be very cunning to realize that if you designate a Commission whose majority of members are opposed or reluctant to the practice of euthanasia, the authorizations are going to drop exponentially, thus harming the patient’s right to obtain a benefit that Law assures you. Because after a refusal from the corresponding regional Commission, that patient cannot go to another Autonomous Community to achieve what was denied in the first; in any case, he would have to resort to the well-known euthanasia tourism and achieving a dignified death in a foreign country, is to say the same thing that has happened up to now. In other words: through a very selective appointment of the Guarantee and Evaluation Commissions provided for in the Law, the parties against euthanasia can achieve their goal of killing it without modifying a comma of it. Keep in mind that their decisions refer to concepts as indeterminate as serious, chronic and disabling condition either serious and incurable diseaseexpressions whose boundedness can be very indeterminate as soon as we try.

If we want the euthanasia law to work as in the countries around us, to guarantee Spanish citizens the right to a dignified death, there should be a method of recruiting the members of that decision-making body that guarantees that its members will not render inoperative a Law that has cost so much effort to promulgate. More dignified death at the will of the patient is, without a doubt, more democracy and more freedom. Let’s not let them sabotage it.