Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, successfully bid for the Olympics in 1992. Thirty years later Catalonia is making a bid to be the world capital of euthanasia fundamentalism.
A recent case in a court in the city of Tarragona, about 100 kilometres south of Barcelona, is a prime exhibit for the loopiness of a pro-euthanasia mentality.
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.
The man at the centre of this controversy is Marin Eugen Sabau. He wants to die. “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,” he says. If anyone had a right to end their pain and die with dignity, it was Marin Eugen Sabau. Two doctors and two representatives of the regional government, a doctor and a lawyer, agreed. Mr Sabau’s application was processed with unusual haste. A date was set – July 28.
However, a judge recently issued a temporary stay and Sabau’s death has been delayed.
Why? 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 never be tried for those crimes.
On December 14 last year, Mr Sabau, a 45-year-old Romanian 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 a gun battle with police, two of them were 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.
Feeling none too chipper after the sudden changes in his life, Mr Sabau asked for euthanasia. The police were horrified. Where was justice for the victims? They objected in a court in Tarragona. The judge, Sonia Zapater, backed Mr Sabau.
Ms Zapater acknowledged that there was a “collision of fundamental rights”. But she ruled that Mr Sabau’s right to an autonomous decision must prevail over the right of victims to justice. Under the law only minors and mentally impaired patients who cannot give informed consent are ineligible for euthanasia. She dismissed the victims’ appeal.
This was euthanasia fundamentalism at its most fanatical. Only one thing mattered: the autonomous will. The individual owes nothing to other human beings or to society. The only thing that counts is his pain; woolly notions like justice or responsibility are meaningless.
Fortunately for the victims, Ms Zapater took her holiday leave, and another judge agreed to grant a stay. What happens next will be a test of Spain’s commitment to the rule of law – and to common sense.
Euthanasia fundamentalism at its most extreme is at work in Catalonia. Mr Sabau’s presumed right to a “death with dignity” has so far trumped all claims that society has upon him. He tried to kill several of his fellow citizens, breaching the most fundamental norm of the law in a civilised society – Thou shalt not kill. Doesn’t society have a right to declare that his actions were destructive, dangerous, and wrong? Don’t his victims have a right to have their pain recognised?
No, not in Catalonia.
A local newspaper interviewed María Jiménez, a bioethicist at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Tarragona, about the case. Yup, the judge was right, she said. The victims of the crime have no say in whether or not Mr Sabau “escapes justice”. Her reasoning is worth recording:
“For me there is a fundamental issue, which is the management of emotions. On the one hand, there is the right of this person, but on the other, the right to compensate the moral damage that other people have, emotionally, this weighs heavily, and society expects a protective response towards the victims. It is a difficult problem to solve, since whatever decision is taken, it will probably not satisfy both parties because they are two completely extreme points.”
In her autonomy-driven vision of law, justice – giving each party his due – has disappeared. All that remains are competing emotions. But this is false. Law is not about rage and vengeance but about restoring the moral balance which a criminal has upset. That’s why there was such an uproar when paedophile Jeffrey Epstein avoided his trial by committing suicide. As a lawyer for the victims said: “[They] deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused.” There speaks 2500 years of Western culture. The normalisation of euthanasia threatens to undermine this.
Mr Sabau intended to kill people and almost succeeded. He grievously wounded several of them. Ideally, he should acknowledge his crime and be reconciled with his victims and society. If he escapes his appointment with justice, euthanasia will not bring him death with dignity. Only a man who takes responsibility for his actions truly has dignity.