LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Spain’s new Socialist-led government has launched another attempt to legalize euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
After early elections twice last year thwarted the government's efforts to change the law, the Socialist party thinks this time it has the support needed.
A parliamentary debate was taking place Tuesday in Madrid in which the lower house was being asked to accept the Socialists' legislative proposal for consideration.
The move would open the way for Spain to become the fourth European Union country — after Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands —- to allow euthanasia, which is when a doctor kills patients at their request. As well as those countries, assisted suicide — where patients administer the lethal drug themselves, under medical supervision — is also permitted in Switzerland and some U.S. states.
If the proposal passes in a vote later Tuesday, it goes to a parliamentary health committee, then to the Senate, before returning to the lower house for a final vote. There is no fixed timetable for those stages.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez urged politicians to move forward quickly.
“We know that many people are waiting, that there is no time to lose,” Sánchez wrote on his Twitter account.
Both euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are currently illegal in Spain, and carry prison sentences of up to eight years. Left-wing parties have tried on a dozen occasions since 1997 to pass bills to help facilitate assisted dying.
The parliament in Spain's neighbor Portugal, where Socialists are also in power, will discuss later this month a similar proposal to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Recent Spanish opinion polls have indicated broad public support for the left-of-center coalition government's plans. The issue has met resistance from conservative politicians and the Catholic church.
The Spanish Bishops’ Conference says on its website that euthanasia “is always a kind of murder” and proposes improvements to palliative care. That proposal is backed by the conservative Popular Party which, along with far-right party Vox, are the only opposition in parliament to the Socialist party's proposal.
The proposed law in Spain would apply to people suffering an incurable condition, with the patient waiting no longer than a month for the procedure after requesting it.
The request triggers a consultative process, with the patient's doctor required to obtain a second opinion from a colleague outside his team. After two weeks, the patient must repeat the initial request, which is then forwarded to a committee for assessment.
A doctor can administer the dose directly or patients can get a prescription and administer it themselves, either at home or at a public or private medical facility.
Doctors unwilling to be involved in the procedure can opt out as conscientious objectors, but a replacement doctor must be found.