Uruguay Congress Approves Bill Allowing Patient’s Withdrawal of Medical Treatment

Bioethics   Steven Ertelt   Mar 19, 2009   |   9:00AM    WASHINGTON, DC

Uruguay Congress Approves Bill Allowing Patient’s Withdrawal of Medical Treatment

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 19
, 2009

Montevideo, Uruguay (LifeNews.com) — The Uruguay Congress has given the final go ahead to a bill that some media outlets are wrongly describing as a "right to die" measure. The legislation does not legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia but allows terminally ill patients to refuse further lifesaving medical treatment.

The South American nation’s Congress approved the bill on Tuesday and now it goes to the country’s center-left president, Tabare Vazquez, who pleased pro-life advocates by vetoing a bill that would have legalized abortions.

Vazquez has not made any public comments on the medical treatment bill, leading some to believe he will sign it into law.

Congressmen Luis Gallo and Washington Abdala sponsored the measure that allows people who are terminally ill or who have a terminally ill spouse or relative, in cases where the patient can’t make their own medical decisions, to stop medical treatment.

"If a person is dying, the law says ‘let me die with dignity, stop imposing therapeutic measures and let me die with dignity,’" Abdala said, according to a media report. "This reflects the right of the patient and also the right of the doctor … to act in this way."

While the bill doesn’t legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia, pro-life advocates and Catholic Church leaders in Uruguay are concerned the measure could lead to it.

They are also worried that medical treatment could be seen as denying a patient food and water, as in the cases of Terri Schiavo and Eluana Englaro, that would subject them to a painful starvation and dehydration death.

Lawmakers in Mexico approved a similar bill last year that allows incurably ill patients or those with a life expectancy of six months or less to sign a document before witnesses suspending medical treatment.

On the abortion bill, Vázquez defied the votes of his party in the Uruguay Congress to expand the nation’s abortion law, which currently only allows abortions in cases of protecting the mother’s life, rape or extreme poverty.

Shortly after his election in 2005, the president said he would veto a bill to legalize abortion despite the fact that members of his own party are the ones behind it.

The Senate initially tied on a 15-15 vote in approving the bill but eventually approved it on an 18-13 vote.

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