The Right to Die or How Far Individual Freedom Goes

The writer and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner during a conference in 2018. (Sergio Santillán Díaz/YouTube/Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Grace Piney, Miami, July 31, 2023 — In his last text, the writer Carlos Alberto Montaner calls for a debate on the right to assisted death: euthanasia.

Years ago, we had this conversation because we had a friendship full of confidences and complicity. Sometimes it happens between a writer and the editor of one of his most intimate texts.

He promised to “warn me” and I promised to write this text.

On that occasion, in the living room of my house in Madrid, with a cup of tea in hand while we edited La mujer del Coronel [The Colonel’s Woman], he said that he had a pistol ready to use if the time came.

The edition of that text had him exultant with joy. I never saw him so fully happy! Not a person spoke in the midst of life’s potholes.

I told him, “There are more civilized ways. Imagine the scene where your family finds a body mangled by the impact of a bullet. Do you really want that?”

Arguments of a religious nature made no sense to him. He enjoyed the exchange with me especially because I am Catholic, a person of faith, committed to God and to the Church. He could be very provocative because he was a debater by nature, even after he died.

Montaner had undergone surgery and had a pacemaker; he was a cancer survivor and was keeping the possible effects of diabetes at bay. At the time, those were his ailments, which he “cherished dearly,” as he used to say.

More than ten years ago, and he already felt ready to go! He said that he was already fulfilled, that he was at peace.

He lived more intensely than you can imagine because, in addition to real life, he had the infinite world that literary creation gives us. Montaner was a man of his word(s) and commitments.

Much more is known about his work as a journalist and as a political scientist, but his true passion was narrative. He was sorry he hadn’t been able to spend more time with it.

He even lived through assassination attempts because, although he was a very public person and had many friends, he also had many (and dangerous) enemies. He knew Death and had a cordial relationship with her.

I never saw him acting on impulse and I know that he was not pushed by pride of not wanting to depend on anyone. It was more than that. It was an assumed decision: If he could decide, he would put an end to his life. He also knew that he would end his days in Spain; he trusted in Spanish healthcare and loved Madrid.

Asking for a dignified death is an act of individual freedom and respect for life, for the life lived and for the people with whom it was lived. It is an act consistent with his idea of ​​individual rights. That is the basis of his reasoning.

Dear reader: Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pushing you to suicide, nor is Montaner. Life is beautiful and you can always find reasons to live. But, when life outweighs death, deciding to touch the button that turns it off should be a recognized right as such.

Assisted dying does not apply to people who got bored with this life. Technically, it is not a suicide. And it’s not dispensed like over-the-counter aspirin.

In Spain, the application is submitted to a registered doctor. Study the case and submit the request for evaluation by a consulting physician who will probably be a specialist in the causative disease.

According to the law, approved in 2021, three conditions must be met:

The person must be a Spanish citizen or resident for more than one year in Spain; he must declare that he requests help freely, without external pressure; and the determinant: the person suffers from a serious and incurable disease or a serious, chronic and disabling condition, which must be certified by the responsible doctor.

Finally, the case is presented to a commission that appoints a doctor and a lawyer who examine the clinical history and the application.

The process can take a month and, if the opinion is positive, the person determines the day, time and place of death.

The person decides whether to drink a Pentobarbital syrup; or whether to turn the key that opens the intravenous route to a serum with the medicines; or to ask them to put you to sleep and have the medical team take care of everything.

Between two and five minutes after application, the drug begins to take effect and induces a deep coma, which leads to death. The process is safe (unequivocally causes death) and is painless.

Do you know how many suicides occur each year in developed countries? Most of them violently, entailing enormous suffering. And, apart from that, there are the unsuccessful suicide attempts, which leave sequelae with which living becomes more difficult.

I am glad that Montaner has resorted to the most civilized route.

The fact that euthanasia is not legal in the United States forced him to return to Spain “to die.”

Could you believe that there are “tourist” routes to die, that there are people who expressly go to countries where euthanasia is legal in the hope of having a peaceful… and legal death?!

In the United States, it is legal to own weapons and use them to kill in self-defense; it is the death penalty (which is carried out by injecting a cocktail of drugs) and it is abortion.

It is legal to withdraw life support when the patient is brain dead and must be approved by a family member or designee.

However, having made a suicide attempt could deny access to a method, and death by suicide nullifies the benefits that the family could receive if the deceased had life insurance.

In short, it is legal to determine the death of another but not one’s own.

The only possibility to decide is to refuse to receive cardiorespiratory resuscitation in case of accident or illness and you are conscious when you arrive at the hospital and declare this.

The United States is probably not ready for this debate. But American society has several pending issues regarding the right to life and death!

Assisted dying implies passing from life to death calmly, without pain and in peace. It implies that families prepare for the process and to get over it in a better way.

Respect for individual freedom must recognize the right to decide to die with dignity, without pain and without suffering.

I will miss Montaner for the rest of my life, as well many of his friends. But I will defend his right to die even if I disagree with his decision.


Editor’s Note: Another version of this text has been published by the author in El Nuevo Herald this Sunday.

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