Spain embroiled in end-of-life care row over fate of gravely ill woman


The family of a Spanish woman with an advanced degenerative disease was on Wednesday in conflict with a hospital that refuses to resuscitate her if she goes into cardiorespiratory arrest, arguing it would cause her unnecessary suffering.

The case, which has reached the courts, has sparked debate over end-of-life care in Spain and it mirrors recent similar high-profile cases elsewhere such as that of Vincent Lambert in France that has drawn in Pope Francis. 

French doctors last week began turning off life support for the quadriplegic road accident victim following a protracted battle with his family.

The Spanish case involves a 54-year-old woman, Maria Teresa, who for over two decades has suffered the effects of ataxia, a degenerative disease of the nervous system which causes difficulty walking, lack of coordination and slurred speech.

Her doctors have decided that if she goes into cardiorespiratory arrest, “advanced techniques of resuscitation” which are “aggressive and invasive” should not be used” since they would “not benefit” this patient, the Hospital Universitario Principe de Asturias which has treated her said in a statement.

Doctors consider that resuscitation would “generate suffering for the patient without providing a benefit” and the hospital has referred the case to a court in Alcala de Henares near Madrid where it is located, the statement added.

The hospital said the woman’s clinical situation was “complex” and she had received “the best medical assistance possible”.

Her family has asked the court to ensure measures are taken to “guarantee Maria Teresa’s life”, arguing that refusing to resuscitate her was the equivalent to “euthanasia”, top-selling daily newspaper El Pais reported Wednesday.

Contacted by AFP, the court in Alcala de Henares declined to confirm the newspaper report.

The woman “does not speak, but she listens and laughs….  Why won’t they resuscitate her? She’s not an animal,” Maria Teresa’s brother Maximo told El Pais.

The Spanish Association of Cristian Lawyers, which is representing the woman’s family, argues on its website that “keeping Teresa alive would represent hefty economic cost for the hospital”.

It will give a news conference on Thursday about the case.

The hospital said the woman’s treatment has always been determined by “healthcare criteria, not economic ones”.