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In many countries around the world, helping terminally-ill people die or allowing them to choose to end their own lives on their own terms is illegal. Euthanasia is defined as intentionally ending someone else’s life to relieve their suffering, whereas assisted suicide is intentionally helping someone else end their own life. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are controversial topics, with conservative and religious groups often vehemently opposed to the idea on moral grounds. Right-to-die campaigners are equally committed to their cause, arguing that euthanasia and assisted suicide offer a humane alternative to people who are suffering needlessly at the end of their lives.
The Lower House of Parliament in Spain recently approved a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide for adults with serious and incurable diseases that cause them unbearable suffering. This makes Spain the fourth country in Europe to pass such laws (Spain joins Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands.) Prior to the passage of the new law, which is expected to take effect in June 2021, people could be jailed for up to ten years if they were found guilty of assisting in someone else’s suicide. The parliament passed the law with 202 votes for it, 141 against, and two members abstaining.
The new law protects euthanasia and assisted suicide when the person is suffering from a serious and incurable illness or a chronic or incapacitating condition causing intolerable suffering, be an adult Spanish national or a legal resident of Spain, and be fully aware and conscious when making a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide. The request must be submitted in writing twice, with 15 days passing between requests.
Outside of the four European countries that have legalized euthanasia, assisted suicide is legal only in Canada and Colombia. A similar law proposed in Portugal was rejected as being unconstitutional. While the law has passed the Spanish parliament, opposition groups have made it clear they intend to challenge its legality in Spain’s Constitutional Court.
While there are no U.S. federal laws allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia, a 2016 California law prohibits prosecution of people who deliberately aided, advised, or encouraged suicide as long as their actions complied with the End of Life Option Act.
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