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Argentina Approves Death with Dignity Law

After four hours of debate in the Argentine Senate [es], on May 9, 2012, the Death with Dignity [es] project was converted into law with wide-ranging support, even from the opposition.

The newspaper Infobae [es] reported just after the law was passed:

Tras más de cuatro horas de debate, el Senado convirtió en ley por 55 votos a favor el proyecto de muerte digna que reconoce el derecho de los pacientes “a aceptar o rechazar determinadas terapias o procedimientos médicos o biológicos con o sin expresión de causa, así como también a revocar posteriormente su manifestación de voluntad”.

La iniciativa indica que el paciente terminal puede rechazar procedimientos, cirugías y “medidas de soporte vital, cuando sean extraordinarias o desproporcionadas en relación a las perspectivas de mejoría” pero lo obliga a expresar su postura al facultativo, quien antes lo habrá informado sobre su real estado de salud, los tratamientos posibles y sus consecuencias.

After more than four hours of debate, with 55 votes in favour, the Senate passed the death with dignity law which recognises patients’ rights “to accept or reject particular treatments or medical or biological procedures with or without justification, as well as revoking their past wishes”. The initiative indicates that a patient with a terminal disease can reject procedures, surgery and “vital support methods, when they are extraordinary or disproportionate in relation to the chances of improvement”. The patient is obliged to express their wishes to their doctor, who beforehand should tell the patient about their true state of health, the possible treatment options and their consequences.

The debate surrounding dying with dignity is even more important now following the wishes of the parents of Camila, a two-year old girl who has been in a vegetative state since her birth. The website Legislarweb [es] reports on the case:

Camila es un caso emblemático de la situación por la que atraviesan muchas familias y que hasta ahora encontraban un vacío legal sobre el tema de la muerte digna. [...]

Tres comités de bioética aseguraron que su estado es irreversible, pero los médicos dicen que, sin legislación, no pueden desconectarla

Camila is emblematic of the current situation facing many families who up until now have found a loophole regarding dying with dignity. Three bioethic committees have assured that Camila's state is irreversible, however the doctors say that without legislation it is not possible to disconnect her from her life support.

The website continues quoting Camila's parents:

“La situación por la que estamos pasando como familia es desgastante y dolorosa, considerando que tenemos una beba de 2 años y 3 meses en Estado Vegetativo Permanente. La situación de mi hija es irrecuperable e irreversible, y hay un vacío legal que impide retirar el soporte vital”, decía en varias oportunidades la madre de la pequeña, Selva Herbón.

“What we are going through as a family is both exhausting and painful, considering that we have a baby of 2 years and 3 months currently in a Permanent Vegetative State. My daughter's condition is irretrievable and irreversible and there is a loophole that is preventing us from withdrawing her life support” as said by the girl's mother, Selva Herbón, on several occasions.

But this has not been the only case in Argentina. Susana Bustamante, the mother of Melina Gonzalez, has also fought until the end for her daughter. The news agency Telam [es] tells of Susana's situation:

“Ella me dijo que durar conectada a un respirador artificial no es voluntad de Dios sino el capricho del hombre” y que “cuando una persona llega a un estado terminal e irreversible se debe permitir que acontezca el hecho natural” de la muerte, recordó Bustamante.

Melina, quien falleció el 2 de marzo de 2011, a los 19 años, padecía neurofibromatosis, una enfermedad degenerativa del sistema nervioso e incurable que afecta principalmente el desarrollo, que le paralizó totalmente el cuerpo y redujo su peso a sólo 20 kilos.

“She told me that to survive by being hooked up to a ventilator is not the will of God, more that it is the wish of the man” and that “when someone reaches the terminal and irreversible stage one must allow the natural event to happen after” meaning death, Bustamante recalled. Melina died on March 2, 2011, aged just 19 years old. She had neurofibromatosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. It is incurable and principally affects the nervous system. An incurable disease, it paralised her body completely and made her drop to weighing just 20 kilos.

On Twitter the hashtag #Muertedigna (death with dignity) became a local trending topic after news broke out about the new law. There have been many different opinions. Twitter user Lean Fernández (@leanfe4) [es] says that the passing of this law is an historical event, and Lou A. Salomé [es] (@Lou_A_S) tweets:

Vivir es un derecho, no una obligación #muertedigna

Living is a right, but not an obligation #muertedigna

However, Martin Ferro (@Martin_Ferro), similarly to other Twitter users, expresses his discomfort:

Autorizar el retiro de alimentación e hidratación no es #MuerteDigna, es #Eutanasia, estaba seguro q iban a votar cualquier cosa

Allowing the withdrawal of food and drink is not #MuerteDigna (death with dignity), it is #Eutanasia (Euthanasia). I was sure they were going to vote whatever.

Argentina finds itself on a list of countries that have a law about dying with dignity. According to the newspaper Clarin [es]:

Holanda, Bélgica, Luxemburgo fueron de los primeros países en reglamentarla. Tres Estados de EE.UU  la permiten. También Suiza. En Colombia fue autorizada por la Corte.

Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg were the first countries to rule for it. Three states in the USA allow it, also in Switzerland. In Colombia a law was authorized by the Court.

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