By Nathan Allen and Marco Trujillo
MADRID (Reuters) -Spain took a big step towards legalising euthanasia on Thursday, with the lower house of parliament approving a bill allowing the seriously ill to choose to end their life, despite staunch opposition from the political right and religious groups.
The bill, which allows for euthanasia and assisted suicide for people with “serious and incurable” or debilitating diseases that cause “unbearable suffering,” was passed by 198-138 vote.
A few dozen protesters rallied outside to a funeral beat of several drums.
The document will now go to the senate, which can sign it into law or send it back to congress with amendments. Without amendments, it could be approved by spring 2021.
If passed, Spain would become the fourth country in the European Union to legalise the practices after Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
With the only political opposition coming from the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Vox, the proposal authored by the leftist coalition government has caused fierce debate inside and outside parliament.
“The euthanasia law is a defeat for civilisation and a victory for the culture of death, for those who believe that some lives are more worthy than others,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said in a video uploaded to social media.
Outside parliament, protesters brandished skull-and-crossbones flags and a banner reading “Government of death.”
“It is a law that goes against all principles, all my principles,” said Candela, a protesting biologist who did not give her surname.
Euthanasia, when a physician actively helps a patient die, and assisted suicide, where a doctor provides a lethal substance for the patient to administer, are considered homicide by the Roman Catholic Church, which for many years set the tone as Spain’s moral authority.
With countries including Portugal and New Zealand debating similar legislation, the Vatican doubled down on its position in September, issuing a document that described politicians who support such laws as accomplices to murder.
Helping someone end their life carries a jail term of up to 10 years now, but almost 90% of Spaniards are in favour of decriminalisation, according to a 2019 national opinion poll.
(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo and Inti Landauro, editing by Andrei Khalip and Timothy Heritage)