.- In a controversial case in which the distinction between euthanasia and the discontinuation of extraordinary medical treatment has been blurred, the government of the Spanish region of Andalusia has authorized a woman suffering from muscular dystrophy to disconnect the respirator that is keeping her alive.
The Committee on Ethics of the Council of Andalusia announced its support for the request by Inmaculada Echevarria, who argued that hers was not a case of active euthanasia, but a rejection of further treatment.
Yet, despite her claim, Echevarria is not terminally ill and the artificial respirator she uses is not prolonging her life but rather supporting her so she does not die of asphyxiation. The decision by the Council will shield the doctors who disconnect the respirator from legal liability.
Maria Jesus Monteor, a health advisor to the Council, said the disconnection of the respirator is a matter of “strict confidentiality” and that her department would not be making any further statements. Echevarria’s case, she said, is a question of “doctor-patient relationship” and a matter of privacy. She called for “respect for this patient’s decision.”
Catholic hospital complicit in decision
Brother Miguel Martin Calderon, director of the Hospital of San Rafael of Granada, which is operated by the order of St. John of God, explained in a press release that the institution accepts the report from the Committee on Ethics and the Consultative Council.
The report asserts there are no “objections of an ethical nature” with regards to Echevarria’s request. Therefore they counseled hospital administrators to scrupulously watch over respect for the rights of the patient.”
Hospital administrators said they did not want to reveal any details about the plans for Echevarria’s death, but they insisted on making the public aware of the her “express desire” regarding the necessary respect for her dignity and privacy.
In his comments about the case, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Toledo and vice president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference said euthanasia is “always illegitimate” and is “an attack against human life and dignity.”
To disconnect someone from a respirator is “simply to accept euthanasia and that man can take his own life,” the Cardinal said, noting that this type of murder “is always evil and is something that attacks man, his life and his dignity.”
Inmaculada Echevarria will die at the Hospital of San Rafael of Granada where she has been cared for during the last ten years. Her team of doctors will care for her until her euthanasia is completed.