A Madrid judge investigating the death of a terminally ill woman with help from her husband is passing the case along to a gender-violence court.
The case of María José Carrasco, a 61-year-old woman who struggled with multiple sclerosis for three decades, made world headlines after her husband Ángel Hernández, 70, made a video in which she ratifies her wish to die and he then gives her a glass with a lethal dose of pentobarbital.
Hernández immediately turned himself over to the authorities after his wife’s death, saying he wishes to shed light on an ongoing debate that has been deadlocked in parliament. He could face a prison sentence if found guilty of helping his wife die.
But the investigating judge has declined jurisdiction in favor of a gender-violence court, arguing that any violent act against a woman by her partner should be considered sexist violence, as recently established by a Supreme Court ruling. In her decision, the judge says that the events under investigation could be construed as “a crime of cooperating with suicide.”
María José Carrasco had tried to take her own life years ago, back when she could still move, but her husband found her in time and prevented her death. After that, they came to an agreement that in future he would help her go if she asked him for assistance.
Public prosecutors said they will challenge the judge’s decision, because this case “is quite removed from gender violence, and the two should not be confused,” said Pilar Martín-Nájera, who heads the Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women.
Ángel Hernández’s lawyer, Olatz Alberdi, said she will appeal the decision in a bid to stop the case from being transferred to another court. “One cannot consider what Ángel did as an act against [his wife] in any case. It was very much the opposite: he followed his wife’s wishes,” she said.
After learning of the investigating judge’s decision, Hernández – who was briefly held in custody and released pending trial – said that he is furious.
“I am a militant feminist and this situation is an insult,” he said during an interview inside his Madrid home. “I have been very calm throughout all of this, and I accept whatever may happen to me for having helped my wife end her suffering, but I will not accept being told that I have used violence against her.”
This is the first time in Spain that a relative has openly admitted to helping someone die and is facing criminal proceedings as a result. A conviction for assisted suicide would mean two to five years in prison, and if gender violence were added as an aggravating circumstance, it would tack an additional two to three years to Hernández’s sentence.
Experts consulted by this newspaper had different views on the case.
“This may sound very crazy to society, to everyone who is certain that this is not a case of sexist violence, but at this stage of attribution of court jurisdiction, people should ignore what they personally believe to be sexist violence,” said Lucía Avilés, spokeswoman for the Association of Women Judges of Spain. It could be that the gender-violence court also rejects the case. “If that happens, the [Madrid] Provincial Court will decide who takes the case.”
One cannot consider what Ángel did as an act against his wife
Olatz Alberdi, defense lawyer
Inmaculada Montalbán, a judge and former president of the Domestic and Gender Violence Observatory at the General Council of the Judiciary, Spain’s legal watchdog, believes that a gender-violence court may indeed have the jurisdiction to investigate the case.
“There is no negative connotation to this, and in any event, if during the investigation there are indications that the target of the probe had no responsibility in the events, the case would be shelved. This court, just like any investigative court, is simply going to probe the facts and circumstances.”
But Altamira Gonzalo, a lawyer and vice-president of the legal association Mujeres Juristas Themis, disagrees: “Law has a lot to do with common sense. And it goes against common sense to treat this man as an alleged abuser when his acts, the way I see it, went in the opposite direction: he helped his partner die well. Gender-violence courts were not made for this.”
“I am worried that this man could be further stigmatized by framing this as a gender-violence crime,” adds Marisa Soleto, director of the foundation Fundación Mujeres. “It only makes everything more complicated. This makes me all the more convinced about the need to regulate euthanasia and take it out of the Criminal Code.”
The case has put the spotlight on a thorny issue ahead of a general election scheduled for April 28 in which no party is expected to win an absolute majority.
The Socialist Party (PSOE), which heads a minority government, is blaming the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and right-wing Popular Party (PP) for blocking legislation that aims to decriminalize euthanasia.Ciudadanos says it wants its own law on palliative care approved before it green-lights the euthanasia bill, while the PP has unequivocally stated that it opposes euthanasia.
No euthanasia case had received this much media attention in Spain since 1988, when Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic from the northwestern region of Galicia, ended his life with help from a friend. The story was made into an award-winning movie, The Sea Inside.
English version by Susana Urra.