Euthanasia will soon be legal in Spain - could the same happen in the UK?

By Sarah Wilson
Friday, 19th March 2021, 11:53 am
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 11:54 am
The Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where people can come to end their lives (Photo: SEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP via Getty Images)
The Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where people can come to end their lives (Photo: SEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP via Getty Images)

A landmark new law in Spain will see euthanasia legalised for people with "serious and incurable" illnesses causing them "unbearable suffering".

Final approval for the law was given by the Spanish government on 18 March, with the new law set to come into force in June this year.

From then, medical staff will be able to legally end the lives of people who wish to die, as well as helping with assisted suicide, where the patient themselves ends their lives.

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Strict conditions

Strict rules will govern eligibility for euthanasia, with certain conditions that have to be met for a person to legally end their lives. These conditions include being a Spanish national or legal resident and being "fully aware or conscious" of the decision they are making.

Requests will have to be submitted twice, each 15 days apart, and must then be approved by an evaluation body or second medic. If the body or medic does not feel the criteria have been met, they can reject the application.

Is euthanasia legal in the UK?

Currently in the UK, both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal, with each carrying risks of imprisonment.

There have been several high profile cases of UK nationals facing legal action after seeking assisted suicide and euthanasia, both at home and abroad.

Some anonymous surveys have suggested euthanasia does - albeit rarely - happen in the UK, with a 2009 study of medical professionals suggesting that 0.2 per cent of deaths involve voluntary euthanasia.

Currently, the Government has not shared plans for euthanasia nor assisted suicide to be made legal in the UK, though it is currently legal for patients to refuse medical treatment, even in the instance that this will shorten their lives.

The most recent YouGov polling suggests strong support for assisted suicide and euthanasia, with a 2020 poll showing three quarters (76 per cent) of the general population and eight in 10 (80 per cent) of healthcare workers think terminally ill patients should be given freedom and protection to take the choice to end their own lives.