Spanish Parliament passes assisted dying bill

18 March, 2021

Spanish lawmakers have voted by 202 to 141 in favour of assisted dying for people with incurable illnesses, becoming the fifth country to legalise assisted dying since 2016. Humanists UK has celebrated the move by the predominantly Catholic country as a decisive step forward in the global campaign for assisted dying, which will add renewed pressure on the UK to follow suit.

The legislation means that doctors will soon be able to assist or directly enable adults ‘intolerably suffering’ from a ‘serious or incurable condition’ or a ‘chronic and incapacitating’ illness to end their lives, provided the assistance is freely and unequivocally asked for.

Under Spain’s previous law, helping someone to end their life carried a jail term of up to 10 years. 84% of Spaniards support legal assisted dying and at least two Spaniards per year travel to Switzerland for an assisted death.

Polling indicates that public support in the UK is even higher, with one recent survey finding 88% of the public favour changing the law along the lines of Spain’s legislation. The number Brits travelling to Switzerland is also dramatically higher with at least one Brit ending their life in Switzerland every week.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘This is a decisive step forward in the campaign for legal assisted dying, as it proves that respect for personal autonomy cuts across both political and religious grounds. It is also significant for adding weight to the growing international consensus that assisted dying should not depend upon a specific life prognosis, but rather an individual’s quality of life.’

‘By failing to confront the evidence on assisted dying, let alone consider legislation to help those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering, our lawmakers have shown a striking lack of compassion. More than one Brit per week now faces the unimaginable horror of having to choose between breaking the law and dying abroad, or suffering from a death devoid of dignity. In a fair, rational, and compassionate society like ours there must be a better alternative. As the UK increasingly looks set to lag behind the rest of the world on this issue, we urge our politicians to pay close attention to the example set by Spain and remedy their inaction by immediately holding an inquiry into the law.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Assisted dying is now permitted for terminally ill and incurably suffering people in Austria, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, with a similar Bill also currently going through the Dáil in the Republic of Ireland. It is also permitted specifically for terminally ill people in Colombia, ten US jurisdictions, and the Australian state of Victoria, and will soon become legal in Western Australia and New Zealand.

Wider developments

Parliament last voted on assisted dying in 2015, rejecting by 330 to 118 a private member’s bill which would have legalised assistance for those with six or fewer months left to live.

Last year, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced the outcome of its members’ survey on assisted dying. The BMA heard from almost 29,000 doctors and medical students and found that 50% personally believe that doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves, with just 39% opposed to it. Asked who should be eligible for an assisted death if the law were changed, 59% felt that patients with physical conditions causing intolerable suffering which cannot be relieved should be; whereas only 24% thought patients suffering from a condition likely to cause death in six months or less should be the only people eligible.

According to the UK Assisted Dying Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a founding member, more than one person a week now travels from the UK to Switzerland for an assisted death.

A 2019 poll from NatCen found that 88% of people in the UK favour assisted dying for those who are incurably suffering, in at least some circumstances.

Read more about our Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying. 

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