Argentina Senate passes 'dignified death' law

Susana Bustamante with a photograph of her daughter Melina Susana Bustamante's daughter Melina had pleaded to be allowed to die

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The Argentine Senate has approved a "dignified death" law to give the terminally ill and their families more say in end-of-life decisions.

The legislation means patients who are dying or suffering incurable illness or injury can refuse treatment, if there is an existing signed consent form.

Until now, a court order was needed to end treatment or life support.

The Senate has also passed a law that allows people to change their gender officially without court approval.

Senators voted by 55-0 in favour of the "dignified death" law, with 17 abstentions. The measure had already passed the lower house and it now goes to President Cristina Fernandez to be signed into law.

All those present were at pains to stress that the legislation does not allow euthanasia.

"The aim is to respect the autonomous will of the patient," said Jose Cano, who heads the Senate's health commission.

Concern

Susana Bustamante, whose 19-year-old daughter Melina had pleaded to be allowed to die amid the pain from her degenerative condition, welcomed the new law.

"You have to allow something natural like death. Death is not a dirty word, we've won it as a right," Ms Bustamante said.

Gender rights campaigners outside Congress in Buenos Aires Campaigners for gender rights gathered outside Congress as senators voted

Melina died last year shortly after making her public appeal.

Under the new legislation, a patient who is suffering a terminal illness or has an incurable condition can refuse treatment.

In cases where patients are unable to speak for themselves, the legislation empowers relatives or legal representatives to make the decision.

The main condition is that the patient or his representatives have signed a document setting out their wishes, before a notary and two witnesses.

During the debate, some senators expressed concern about ending life support to or withdrawing feeding tubes from a patient unable to communicate.

The Roman Catholic Church rejected the new legislation, arguing that life support should never be stopped.

Senators also used Wednesday's session to approve a gender rights law.

The legislation gives people the right to be officially recognised by the gender of their choosing, which may in some cases mean undergoing sex-change surgery.

People aged 18 and above will be able to have such an operation or hormone therapy without needing to apply to a judge.

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