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HEALTH

Doctor convicted of euthanasia plays himself on Madrid stage

Advancing on slowly onto the stage of a Madrid theatre, Marcos Hourmann introduces himself.

Doctor convicted of euthanasia plays himself on Madrid stage
Argentinian doctor Marcos Hourmann, the only doctor convicted of euthanasia in Spain, plays the role of himself during a rehearsal at the Teatro del Barrio. Photos: AFP

“I am the first doctor convicted in Spain for practising euthanasia,” he informs the public at the tiny Teatro del Barrio in the Lavapies neighbourhood which is known for its leftist roots.

“I wish that tonight you judge me,” he later adds during the play which premiered on Thursday and which recounts Hourmann's real life experiences.   

The play, called “Celebrare mi muerte” or “I Will Celebrate My Death”, comes as Spain gears up for a snap general election on April 28th.   

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has promised to make Spain the fourth country in Europe to legalise euthanasia after Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands if he wins a majority in parliament — a move fiercely opposed by the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP).

“This is a gift that I am being given, to be able to spew” words never before said Hourmann, a 59-year-old Argentine-born doctor who was convicted of killing a terminally ill patient without trial.

During the 75-minute play he recounts how in March 2005 he was the duty doctor at a hospital in Tarragona in northeastern Spain when an 82-year-old woman named Carmen who had colon cancer and multiple other ailments arrived.   

Hourmann tells the audience that the woman told him twice that she wanted to die but he first did what was expected of him — he tried to save her life. 

When there was no more hope legally sedated her to ease her pain.   

But a nurse later woke him up “because Carmen continued to choke. Her daughter told me: 'I can't see her like that',” he adds during the play.   

Hourmann then gave Carmen with a fatal dose of potassium chloride.   

“If I could no longer help her live, isn't it my duty as a doctor to help her die?,” Hourmann asks the audience.

'Hypocrisies'

Just two weeks before he was set to go on trial in 2009, public prosecutors proposed a plea deal which Hourmann accepted.   

Instead of facing a possible ten year sentence for homicide, he was convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and handed a one year suspended sentence, meaning he did not spend any time behind bars.   

Hourmann moved to Britain where he worked as a doctor but in 2010 British tabloid The Sun launched a campaign against him, dubbing him a “killer doctor” and he became unemployed.

A voice off stage asks Hourmann during the play why he registered Carmen's cause of death as being by lethal injection, which is what led to him being charged.

“If I did not write it, it would be going against my ideas,” he responds, adding he rejects “hypocrisies”.

'End pain'

The play is careful to include the arguments of experts and lawmakers who are “totally opposed to euthanasia,” its director, Alberto San Juan, said.   

A doctor argues in one scene that medical ethics allow physicians to “end pain” but prohibit “ending a patient's life”.   

Euthanasia has long grabbed public attention in Spain, which has the world's second-highest life expectancy.

Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenabar won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2005 for “The Sea Inside”, based on the real story of a paraplegic Spanish fisherman's 29-year campaign to win the right to end his own life with assisted suicide.

Fully 84 percent of Spaniards back euthanasia for terminally ill patients who conserve their mental faculties, according to a survey published last year in daily newspaper La Vanguardia.

Spain's ruling Socialists in June presented a draft law on legalising euthanasia which was backed by far-left party Podemos but the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos blocked it in a parliamentary committee in October.

“The Socialist party is expert in creating inexistant problems,” PP leader Pablo Casado at the time, adding the state should not intervene in people's “conscience”.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux 

READ MORE: Spain takes tentative first step to legalising euthanasia

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HEALTH

How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

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