On the Friday before Christmas, the Cuban parliament passed a new health law acknowledging the right of terminally ill Cubans to refuse to artificially prolong their lives or to opt for a “dignified” death.
The legislation, unanimously approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular), will come into effect when regulations for its implementation have been approved by the Ministry for Health.
The new law recognizes individuals’ right “to access a dignified death through the exercise of determinations for the end of life, which may include limiting therapeutic efforts, continuous or palliative care, and valid procedures to end life.” The procedure specifically mentions patients with degenerative and irreversible chronic illnesses who are experiencing unbearable suffering in the terminal phase of life.
According to Leonardo Pérez Gallardo, president of the Cuban Society of Civil and Family Law, this law legitimizes a right which was debated during discussions leading up to the 2022 approval of the Family Code, which also legalised same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and altruistic surrogacy.
The debate in the Cuban parliament consisted mostly of bouquets to the wisdom and eloquence of its authors. Dr Taymí Martínez Naranjo, a member of the government’s inner cabinet, the Council of State, was glowing in her praise of this pro-life measure. It affirms, she said: “the right of individuals to access a dignified death through the exercise of determinations for the end of life, and to decide on the course of their illness based on the bioethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Today, we are discussing a law that places respect for the lives of human beings and their most important right at the centre: the ability to decide.”
Cuba may be the poorest country to legalise the right to die and is certainly the first authoritarian regime to do so. This could lead to problems, as bioethics commentator Wesley J. Smith noted sardonically in the National Review:
“Swell. Cuba is a very poor country with people having access to general practitioners, but the country is plagued by medicine shortages and run down facilities. Indeed, according to the Miami Herald, poor access to medical care is one reason Cubans immigrate or flee the country.
Poor quality care and socialized medicine are a toxic combination, perhaps even leading to people being driven to euthanasia or lethal jabs becoming a substitute for care, both of which appear to be happening in Canada.
Then, there is the possibility of euthanasia being used as a cover for political murders in a ruthless tyranny. Hey, what happened to that political dissident? Oh, he asked for “death with dignity.” Aww, compassion!