Policy makers in Chile have approved a bill that would allow the practice of euthanasia by doctors on terminally ill patients and in cases of extreme suffering.
The policy will now be analysed and debated by the lower house after which, if approved, will be sent to the Senate for a further vote. Already believed to have the required amount of support in the Lower House, should the bill come into law it will make Chile the second country in the region after Colombia, who legalised euthanasia in 2015, to allow the practice.
The process of euthanasia, which usually involves a doctor administering a lethal injection to a patient, continues to be a highly delicate and much debated topic. Unlike assisted suicide which allows patients to take a deadly dose, euthanasia raises a number of moral and ethical questions and challenges the notion of medical duty of care. Furthermore the proposed bill challenges Catholic beliefs of the sanctity of life, which maintains a overarching grip on a wide section of the Chilean population.
According to Bloomberg, the proposal was derived from the Chamber of Deputies who first approved the idea. It marks a continuous shift by the country and its views on civil freedoms. It was as recent as 2004 that divorce was finally legalised in the country, followed by the passing of an abortion bill in 2017 although it is only legal in extremely limited circumstances, such as cases of rape and when the mother’s life is at risk. Previous to this, Chile had one of the most restrictive abortion practices in the world, criminalising it without exception.
The new euthanasia bill has met with an amount of criticism and also has a long way to progress before passing into law. Considered one of the most Catholic countries on the continent, with up to 72% of the population identifying with the religion, the right to life will pose a huge challenge for the proposed bill. Furthermore at this point it is unclear how members of the Senate will approach the proposal. Just last week in neighbouring Argentina, the Senate debated the legalisation of abortion for sixteen hours whilst thousands of people rallied outside in support, before eventually ruling against the legalisation. It marks a continuous trend where young supporters, with the backing of social media, rally a momentum that is not felt in more traditional, rural areas.
At the same time however, the Catholic church in Chile has been rocked by continuous scandal recently which leaves a question mark on the extent of the group’s influence in the country. According to Bloomberg recent studies also suggest that up to 70% of the population could support the process of euthanasia and this, complemented by the Catholic Church’s bad press in the country, could alternatively point to resounding support for the bill.
It is however not the first time that the process of euthanasia has been proposed within the country. It was back in 2006 that Senator Guido Girardi proposed that passive euthanasia be legalised in a bid to allow for a dignified death. Though the bid initially failed, refreshed proposals suggest that the country is increasingly shifting perspectives on personal liberties. Should euthanasia be legalised, Chile will join a miniscule selection of countries where the process is allowed.