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Euthanasia and assisted dying legalized in Spain: Where are we now with death with dignity laws?

Published Mar 25, 2021 • By Courtney Johnson

Highly debated in both the medical community and at large, euthanasia and assisted dying has long been a controversial and emotive topic. After decades of national and legislative discussion, Spain has legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, opening the door for terminally ill patients to make their own end-of-life decisions.

What exactly has been put into law? What are the conditions to be met for assisted dying in Spain? What is the status of death with dignity laws in the United States?

We explain it all below!

Euthanasia and assisted dying legalized in Spain: Where are we now with death with dignity laws?

Spain legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide after years of debate

Following a December 17 vote in the Congress of Deputies and ratification by the Senate on March 18, euthanasia and assisted suicide is now legal in Spain. After decades of debate and previous failed attempts, the law was approved and Spain has become one of the few countries to allow terminally ill or gravely injured patients to end their own suffering.

Specifically, the new Spanish legislation will allow active euthanasia - when medical staff deliberately end a life to relieve suffering - and assisted suicide - when the patient ends his or her own life, guided by a third party who has previously provided them with the information and/or means to carry it out. The procedure will be available through Spain’s national health service.

When the legislation takes effect in June 2021, Spain will join three other countries in Europe that have decriminalized assisted suicide - Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands - as well as Canada and New Zealand, making it the sixth country worldwide to acknowledge the patient’s right to an assisted death.

>>> To learn more about the different forms of assisted dying and how Carenity members feel about the subject, read our article: “Assisted suicide: How patients and families really feel” <<<

Strict criteria for approval

While the landmark legislation received cross-party support from both leftist and conservative parliamentarians, it was passed on the condition that a number of strict criteria be put in place.

Anyone with a “serious or incurable” illness or a “chronic or debilitating” condition will be eligible, but the patient must be a Spanish national or legal resident and must be “fully aware and conscious” when they ask to end their life, which must be done twice in writing, 15 days apart.

The patient’s request must be approved by an oversight board and may be rejected if it is felt that any of the above requirements have not been met. Additionally, any healthcare professional may refuse to participate in the procedure on grounds of conscience.

What is the status of death with dignity laws in the US?

While euthanasia remains illegal in most of the US, terminally ill patients, their loved ones, and patient organizations such as the Death with Dignity National Center are making strides to make patients’ voices heard and to expand the right of every terminally ill patient to make their own end-of-life decisions.

Currently, eight states and Washington, D.C. have death with dignity statutes making assisted suicide/assisted death legal:

  • California (End of Life Option Act, in effect since 2016)
  • Colorado (End of Life Options Act, in effect since 2017)
  • District of Columbia (D.C. Death with Dignity Act, in effect since 2017)
  • Hawaii (Our Care, Our Choice Act, in effect since 2019)
  • Maine (Death with Dignity Act, in effect since 2019)
  • New Jersey (Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, in effect since 2019
  • Oregon (Death with Dignity Act, in effect since 1997)
  • Vermont (Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act, in effect since 2013)
  • Washington (Death with Dignity Act, in effect since 2009)

The Death with Dignity National Center reports that 70% of Americans support the end-of-life option that would allow terminally ill people to end their lives through physician-prescribed medications, so in the coming years we may see more states depenalize this option.

You can follow the progress of death with dignity statues in your state on the Death with Dignity website here.


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Take care!


avatar Courtney Johnson

Author: Courtney Johnson, Community manager UK & US

Courtney is Community Manager for Carenity’s UK and US platforms. Her role is to facilitate discussion and answer questions among Carenity’s English-speaking members. She also assists in the editing and translation... >> Learn more

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