Death rights

Uruguay’s Lower House passes euthanasia bill but will the Senate approve it?

On 6th October, Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies approved the decriminalisation of euthanasia, with the support of 57 of the 96 members of Parliament, including lawmakers from different ideological parties. The bill is now pending the approval of the Senate. The legislative proposal is the unification of two previous projects and does not contemplate assisted suicide, unlike the previous 2020 text.

“All parties have said that their members in Parliament should vote according to their beliefs,” explained a Uruguayan lawyer and politician, “the Senate’s Health Committee has seven members, three support the law, two are against it and two haven’t publicly stated their position yet.”

“All parties have said that their members in Parliament should vote according to their beliefs.”

Lawyer and politician, Uruguay

By decriminalising euthanasia, the legislative proposal puts the weight of the decision on the patient, instead of the doctor, as it will allow adults with full mental powers with a chronic health condition to ask for euthanasia. Notably, doctors will be allowed to invoke contentious objection and will not be obliged to practice euthanasia.

A Family Law specialist familiar with the bill commented, “The law should have included more warranties regarding the assessment of the psychological condition of the patients. In some countries such as Spain, which have already legalised euthanasia, the law provides for a more careful protocol to ensure the patient has been fully informed of available palliative care and is completely free and under no pressure or in a vulnerable state when deciding for euthanasia.”

The bill was an initiative of the centrist and social liberal Colorado Party with the approval of the leading opposition Frente Amplio leftist Party. Nevertheless, the proposal has generated divisions among the centre-right government coalition, as the ruling National Party opposed the measure. The politician believed the debate was constructive, “One major benefit of this law is that it has put a focus on palliative care and we may see some new legislation here too.”

“One major benefit of this law is that it has put a focus on palliative care and we may see some new legislation here too.”

Lawyer and politician, Uruguay

A widespread majority of the Uruguayan society is in favour of the bill, as shown by a recent Factum poll which showed that 77% of the population would approve the legalisation of euthanasia. However, there is also a significant opposition to the proposal from conservative groups and even professional associations. For example, Prudencia Uruguay is a group of professionals in the sectors of bioethics, palliative care, psychiatric medicine, lawyers, and philosophers who claim that the law should concentrate on mitigating suffering, instead of ending lives. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Montevideo, Daniel Sturla, called the proposal a death cult.

In the past, President Luis Lacalle Pou has expressed his willingness to debate the decriminalisation of euthanasia, although he described himself as “pro-life”. However, he now seems caught between the support of the legislative powers and the calls from his party and the far-right coalition partner Cabildo Abierto to veto the bill if it is approved by the Senate.

Uruguay has a tradition of being a pioneer in the approval of progressive legislation in the region, from the legalisation of the use of marihuana and same-sex marriage to the decriminalisation of abortion. By decriminalising euthanasia, it would become the second country in the region, following the path of Colombia in 2015. Asked if Uruguay’s position could affect the rest of Latin America, the politician didn’t think so, “Other countries in Latin America are already in their own processes of working towards a regulation of euthanasia, I don’t think the outcome of Uruguay’s process will affect them.”

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