Ethicists Note Faults in Spain's End of Life Law

Expected in Parliament in June

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MADRID, Spain, MAY 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Legislation on the end of life has been passed by Spain's Council of Ministers and is expected in Parliament next month, but ethicists are cautioning about a number of defects in the bill.

A non-profit Christian group of ethicists, Profesionales por la Ética, said the regulation is problematic for "those who wish to continue helping their patients to live their lives in a dignified manner to the end, alleviating their symptoms."

Carlos Álvarez, spokesman of a Dignified Life campaign being promoted by the ethicists, noted a "lack of protection" for both patients and doctors who oppose a directly-induced death.

For example, the group pointed out weaknesses in regard to regulation wording on sedation, which is presented as a right.

"To exact it as a right and to oblige the doctor to prescribe it might endanger the patient's life -- given that there are cases in which sedation is counter-indicated -- and, in any case, it obliges the professional to obey criteria that are foreign to professional ethics," the organization noted.

It further warned that the legislation fails to limit the will of the patient with good medical practice.

There is, in fact, an "undesirable divergence between the rights of patients -- which could be misinterpreted as unlimited -- and professional duties -- among which reference is made to the duty to respect the norms of good clinical practice," they noted.

The group also warned that patients can be placed at the mercy of doctors, who are given the "final power of how and when sedation can be induced or vital supports withdrawn -- such as nourishment and hydration."

Palliative care, meanwhile, is insufficiently addressed, they observed. It is not included as a patient right nor is there mention of funding.

"In short," Álvarez said, "if the law is as it is described in the report, the only health professionals who see their situation reinforced are those who practice irregular sedation, for whom there is no provision for any sort of exigency or control."