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Spain may legalise assisted suicide, health minister says

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1697 (Published 17 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1697
  1. Tiago Villanueva
  1. 1Lisbon

    Spain may see the legalisation of assisted suicide in the near future if proposed reforms of the law are carried out, the country’s health minister has said.

    End of life care in Spain is due for a major overhaul, said the minister, Bernat Soria, in an interview in the daily newspaper El País (www.elpais.com, 7 Sep, “Tu cuerpo es tuyo, eso es socialista” (“Your body is yours—that is socialist”). The reforms, which may include the legalisation of assisted suicide, are intended to reduce unnecessary suffering among patients, Dr Soria explained.

    He said, “The change will ensure that the patient’s right to a dignified death becomes a real right.

    “We know that people die suffering. This cannot be. We are not going to win the battle against death, but we can win the battle against pain.”

    The government has been working on a national strategy for palliative care, he said, that would ensure a dignified death and give citizens the right to say no to further treatment when they had had enough.

    Dr Soria said, “The Socialist Party [the ruling party] says: in such a matter the owner of your body is yourself. It is you who makes the decisions.”

    Maite Perea, head of the press office at the Spanish Ministry of Health, said that the reforms would require the establishment of a group of experts to draw up the necessary changes to the current law on patient autonomy, approved in 2002 by José Maria Aznar’s Popular Party government, which fell in 2004. The Ministry of Health is also planning to create a joint commission with the Ministry of Justice to consider the regulation of assisted suicide.

    Dr Soria said, “It isn’t absurd to say that Spain may end up with legislation similar to that in Switzerland or the Netherlands [where assisted suicide is legal], but we just can’t do everything in one day. Our society has demonstrated already on several occasions that it is a modern society, that it is mature, and that it is ready for any kind of debate.”

    Esteban González Pons, spokesman for the opposition Popular Party, said, in reaction to Dr Soria’s proposals: “The Socialists have renounced palliative care. They don’t talk any more about a dignified death: they talk about assisted suicide. We are for a culture of palliative care, for a fight against therapeutic obstinacy, but I don’t think anyone in Spain supports the murder of people who are receiving care paid by social security.”

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1697