Spain’s Catholic bishops are resisting moves to legalise euthanasia in their traditionally Catholic country, as part of a radical reform package by the newly installed Socialist-led government.
The government holds only a narrow parliamentary majority – which Bishop Luis Arguello, secretary general of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, says could be significant: “This new government’s weakness could also give it a great opportunity to support dialogue for the common good – to foster reason rather than a culture of confrontation.”
Bishop Arguello went on: “We should draw a red line through death as a means of solving problems or relieving pain, since it really means annihilating the suffering person. But it seems we’re no longer free to raise anthropological issues without being accused of some kind of phobia.”
The bishop spoke to El Mundo after the Spanish Cortes voted by 208 to 140 to bring forward draft legislation by the government of premier Pedro Sánchez, which would make the country the world’s ninth to de-criminalise euthanasia.
Meanwhile, Spain’s former primate dismissed claims that euthanasia embodied a “new human right” to be validated by parliament, and warned its legalisation would be a “serious and harmful sin”. Archbishop Braulio Rodríguez Plaza, now apostolic administrator of Toledo, told Catholics in a pastoral letter: “We must reject claims by promoters of euthanasia about their alleged compassion for pain. Neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide will make society better or freer, or be an expression of true progress.”
New rights to “a dignified death and regulated euthanasia” were pledged under an agreement between Sanchez’s Socialist Party and the left-populist Unidas Podemos, headed by Pablo Iglesias, whose coalition, the first in modern Spain, took office on January 13 with a two-seat majority. The draft law will allow state-funded euthanasia for patients with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and abolish a ban on assisted suicide, which currently incurs jail sentences of 5-10 years. A written request to die, repeated after 15 days without pressure, must be approved by a medical commission, with final provisions decided separately by Spain’s 17 regions.
Spanish media said the measure was modelled on laws in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, which allow euthanasia alongside Canada, Colombia, Switzerland and parts of Australia and the United States. Although opposed by the conservative Partido Popular and right-populist Vox party, euthanasia rights for incurable patients were supported by 87 per cent of citizens in a 2019 survey, while around two-thirds of doctors are said to favour the draft law.
Leaders of the Catholic Church, to which two-thirds of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants nominally belong, have criticised other coalition government policies, which include “affective-sexual education” and replacing school religion with classes in “civic and ethical values”, as well as widened abortion rights, guaranteed “state secularity” and recovering assets “improperly registered to the Church”.