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Woman at center of euthanasia debate in Spain dies after respirator disconnected

.- Inmaculada Echevarria, the woman suffering from progressive muscular dystrophy and who had spent the last 20 years confined to bed, had her respirator removed and died on Wednesday at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, a public health care facility where she had been transferred hours earlier.

According to officials, Echevarria was sedated by the medical team charged with her care, so that she would not suffer “any pain.”

The 51 year-old woman was transferred from the San Rafael Hospital, operated by the Order of St. John of God, where she had been cared for during the last 15 years, to the San Juan de Dios Hospital, which - despite its name - is a state-run facility.  The decision to move her was made by San Rafael administrators according to a statement released by the hospital and by local health officials.

Health officials said the transfer to the public facility located in a building next to San Rafael Hospital was done in order “avoid unnecessary bother to the patient.”  

Administrators at the religious order’s hospital considered the petition by Echevarria to have her ventilator removed, which she had been using for nine years, to be “correct and acceptable, from the legal and ethical point of view” and that the transferal was requested “so that whatever she needed could be done and so that her request could be appropriately guaranteed.”

Before removing the vital life support, doctors and psychologists had Echevarria reconfirm that the decision to do so was truly hers.

Earlier this week, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Toledo, vice president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, said removal of the respirator would constitute an attack on human life and would be an act of euthanasia.

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