February 26, 2024

Spain: where the right to die can trump the right to justice

“I am paraplegic. I have 45 stitches in my hand. I cannot move my left arm well. I have screws in my body and cannot feel from the chest down,” Marin Eugen Sabau told a judge in Catalonia. He wanted to be euthanised and his reasons appeared to be as sound as any other applicant for death with dignity. The judge agreed and Sabau’s application was processed with unusual haste. A date was set – July 28.

However, another judge has issued a temporary stay and Sabau’s death has been delayed.

In Catalonia, euthanasia is far from uncommon. Since euthanasia was legalized in Spain in June last year, 60 of the country’s 172 cases have taken place in this region — more than a third, although Catalonia has only 16 percent of the total population.

However, Mr Sabau’s case is exceptional, even unprecedented, because he is awaiting trial for attempted murder and a host of other charges. If he were euthanised, he would escape justice.

On December 14 last year, Mr Sabau, a 45-year-old Romanian who was working as a security guard, donned a goofy woman’s wig, walked into his workplace in Tarragona and shot three of his co-workers. Then he fled the scene and barricaded himself in an abandoned farmhouse. In gun battle with police, one of them was wounded. Eventually snipers put Mr Sabau out of action, shooting him in his back, his arm and his leg. He ended up a paraplegic and one of his legs was amputated.

His request for euthanasia was approved. The judge said that the case did present a “collision of fundamental rights”. But she ruled that Mr Sabau’s right to death with dignity must prevail over the right of victims to justice.

She said that only minors and mentally impaired patients who cannot give informed consent are ineligible for euthanasia under the law.

The policeman had already lodged an appeal against Mr Sabau’s euthanasia and the judge dismissed it. But when she took her holiday leave, another judge agreed to grant a stay. The case continues.

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