Death, as seen on TV
Following a yearslong cultural push, Spain legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide
In 1998, Ramona Maneiro put a glass of cyanide-laced water in front of her friend Ramón Sampedro. Almost three decades earlier, when Sampedro was 25, a diving accident left the Spanish seaman with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. He spent the rest of his life fighting a losing battle with the Spanish government for the right to obtain assisted suicide. Maneiro helped poison him and operated the camera to record his final moments.
“When I drink this,” the paralyzed man said, “I will have renounced the most humiliating of slaveries: being a live head stuck to a dead body.” He sipped the poisoned drink through a straw and died 40 minutes later. Authorities arrested Maneiro but later released her due to the lack of incriminating evidence. After the statute of limitations expired seven years later, she admitted her role in the suicide during a TV interview.
Within a decade of Sampedro’s death, Spanish filmmakers turned his suicide into an internationally acclaimed movie. The film sparked a national debate that culminated Thursday with the legalization of euthanasia in the country. Lawmakers in the lower house voted 202 to 140 to pass a bill requiring Spain’s public health system to help end the lives of people suffering unbearably from a “serious, chronic illness with no chance of recovery.” The legislation will take effect in June.
Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias called the passage of the euthanasia bill a step “towards a more humane and fair society.” But the Catholic Church in Spain has condemned euthanasia as another form of homicide. Protesters outside of Parliament on Thursday dressed as grim reapers and held banners saying, “Stop Euthanasia.” At least one man stood in a fake coffin with a sign reading, “There is no right to kill.”
Many people who share Sampedro’s condition agree with the protesters. Joni Eareckson Tada is an American woman with a similar story: A diving accident in 1967 when she was 17 left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. She is strongly against legalizing euthanasia.
“What concerns me is this continuing culture of death is promoting the premise that one is better off dead than disabled,” she said in a 2014 interview with WORLD. “And of course as a quadriplegic, living in a wheelchair for 47 years, this is a message that I think is straight from the pit of hell.”
The Bioethics Committee of Spain foresaw the same problems. The group released a report in October advising against legalizing euthanasia in Spain, saying these practices “are not signs of progress but rather a regression of civilization” that encourage people to rate the value of human life based on “social utility, economic interest, family responsibilities and public burdens or spending.”
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