Man arrested over wife’s death revives euthanasia debate in Spain

Spanish police said Thursday they had arrested a man who helped his seriously ill wife to commit suicide, reviving a debate over euthanasia less than a month before a general election.

Man arrested over wife's death revives euthanasia debate in Spain
Photo: racorn/Depositphotos

The man, who was later released by a judge pending further inquiries according to a judicial source, was arrested on Wednesday in Madrid a police spokesman told AFP.

“He said his wife was terminally ill and that he had given her a substance to provoke her death so that she no longer suffered,” the spokesman added.   

During an interview with private television La Sexta broadcast last year, the man, Angel Fernandez, said his wife, who was in her early 60s, had battled multiple sclerosis, for 30 years, was in pain and extremely tired, and wanted to die “with dignity”.

“The ideal would be if a professional was authorised (to help her die) but as it's impossible, if she asks, I should do it,” he added.   

The news of the man's arrest reopened the debate over euthanasia as Spain gears up for a snap general election on April 28th, with the case dominating daytime television talk shows and sparking a flurry of opinions on social media.

READ MORE: Spain takes steps to legalise euthanasia 

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).

“We want people not to suffer beyond what they freely decide,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo wrote on Twitter on Thursday.   

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

Ciudadanos secretary general Jose Manuel Villegas said his party was in favour of the law in general but would prefer that another law which it proposed on palliative care was approved first.

“What this case highlights is that we need this regulation,” he told a news conference in a reference to the man's arrest.   

The PP declined to comment on the case, arguing that party leader Pablo Casado had yet to present the election programme.   

The party said last year there was no need for a law allowing euthanasia.   

Polls show a majority of Spaniards back euthanasia for terminally ill patients are mentally unimpaired. Multiple sclerosis is a rare, disabling autoimmune disease that damages the central nervous system. It can lead to fatigue, pain, vision loss and impaired coordination and motor skills.

READ ALSO: Doctor convicted of euthanasia plays himself on Madrid stage

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TODAY: Spain’s euthanasia law comes into effect

A law legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide came into effect in Spain Friday, making the country one of a few to allow terminally-ill or gravely-injured patients to end their own suffering.

TODAY: Spain's euthanasia law comes into effect
A man holds a placard reading "To choose to die without suffering" during a demonstration in support of the law legalising euthanasia Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

The legislation, which was passed by parliament in March, “responds to the existing social demand on the matter” and contains “safeguards” on the implementation of euthanasia, the health ministry said in a statement

Spain is the fourth European nation to decriminalize assisted suicide after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The law was drafted following public pressure generated by several high-profile cases, notably that of Ramon Sampedro whose plight was immortalized in the Oscar-winning 2004 film “The Sea Inside”.

It permits euthanasia in which medical staff intentionally end a life to relieve suffering, and assisted suicide in which it is the patient who carries out the procedure.

Anyone with a “serious or incurable illness” or a “chronic or incapacitating” condition can now request help dying to avoid “intolerable suffering”.

The patient must be a Spanish national or a legal resident and “fully aware and conscious” when they make the request, which has to be submitted twice in writing, 15 days apart.

A doctor can reject the request if the requirements have not been met. It must be approved by a second medic and by an evaluation body.

Any medic can withdraw on grounds of “conscience” from taking part in the procedure that will be available via Spain’s national health service.

But the legislation has drawn stark opposition from the Catholic Church and from Spain’s political right, with the main opposition Popular Party filing an appeal against the law on Thursday at the Constitutional Court.