ROME — Progress in passing a bill that would legalize euthanasia in Spain signals a failure of morality and of the government’s mandate to protect the life of its citizens, the country’s bishops said.

The Spanish bishops’ conference released a statement Dec. 11 denouncing the legislation after Spain’s Justice Commission approved the bill, paving the way for it to be passed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved.

According to a report by the European news agency Euronews, the legislation could “come into effect in early 2021.”

The processing of the bill, the bishops said, was “carried out in a suspiciously accelerated manner, in a time of pandemic and a state of alarm, without listening to or engaging in public dialogue.”

“This event is especially serious, since it establishes a moral rupture, a change in the purposes of the state from defending life to being responsible for inflicting death,” the statement said.

Passage of the bill also would damage the reputation of the medical profession, which “is called as much as possible to cure or at least alleviate — in any case to console — and to never intentionally provoke death,” it said.

In light of the expected legalization of euthanasia, the Spanish bishops’ conference called on Catholics in the country to take part in a day of fasting and prayer Dec. 16 “to ask the Lord to inspire laws that respect and promote the care of human life.”

The controversial law would make Spain the fifth European country to legalize physician-assisted suicide after Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Other European countries, such as Austria, Switzerland, Finland and Norway, allow for what is known as “passive euthanasia,” in which patients, under strict circumstances, can elect to not receive treatments, such as nutrition or hydration, that would prolong their lives.

Currently, assisted suicide is punishable in Spain with up to five years in prison. A person found to have been directly involved in someone’s death can face homicide charges and up to 10 years in prison.

El Pais, the Spanish newspaper, said the bill would allow adults with a terminal illness and those with serious and chronic disabilities to request help for assisted death from the public health care system.

Spanish media have also reported that one survey revealed that up to 87 percent of the public is sympathetic to the introduction of a euthanasia law, with about 70 percent of doctors in favor of a change in the law.

Echoing a similar request made in September, the Spanish bishops’ conference urged legislators to instead promote palliative care to help patients deal with the physical and emotional pain of illness, but also “consoles and offers the hope that comes from faith and gives meaning to all human life, even in suffering and vulnerability.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, the bishops said, has not only highlighted the “frailty of life” but has, at times, raised “indignation at the neglect in the care of the elderly.”

“There has been a growing awareness that ending life cannot be the solution to a human problem,” the statement said. “We have been grateful for the work of the health care providers and the value of our public health care, and even call for its improvement and greater budgetary attention.”

Physician-assisted suicide cannot be viewed as a humane or economic “shortcut,” the bishops said. Instead, the government should “invest in the care and closeness that we all need in the final stage of this life. This is true compassion.”