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HEALTH

Doctor convicted of euthanasia plays himself on Madrid stage

Advancing on slowly onto the stage of a Madrid theatre, Marcos Hourmann introduces himself.

Doctor convicted of euthanasia plays himself on Madrid stage
Argentinian doctor Marcos Hourmann, the only doctor convicted of euthanasia in Spain, plays the role of himself during a rehearsal at the Teatro del Barrio. Photos: AFP

“I am the first doctor convicted in Spain for practising euthanasia,” he informs the public at the tiny Teatro del Barrio in the Lavapies neighbourhood which is known for its leftist roots.

“I wish that tonight you judge me,” he later adds during the play which premiered on Thursday and which recounts Hourmann's real life experiences.   

The play, called “Celebrare mi muerte” or “I Will Celebrate My Death”, comes as Spain gears up for a snap general election on April 28th.   

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).

“This is a gift that I am being given, to be able to spew” words never before said Hourmann, a 59-year-old Argentine-born doctor who was convicted of killing a terminally ill patient without trial.

During the 75-minute play he recounts how in March 2005 he was the duty doctor at a hospital in Tarragona in northeastern Spain when an 82-year-old woman named Carmen who had colon cancer and multiple other ailments arrived.   

Hourmann tells the audience that the woman told him twice that she wanted to die but he first did what was expected of him — he tried to save her life. 

When there was no more hope legally sedated her to ease her pain.   

But a nurse later woke him up “because Carmen continued to choke. Her daughter told me: 'I can't see her like that',” he adds during the play.   

Hourmann then gave Carmen with a fatal dose of potassium chloride.   

“If I could no longer help her live, isn't it my duty as a doctor to help her die?,” Hourmann asks the audience.

'Hypocrisies'

Just two weeks before he was set to go on trial in 2009, public prosecutors proposed a plea deal which Hourmann accepted.   

Instead of facing a possible ten year sentence for homicide, he was convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and handed a one year suspended sentence, meaning he did not spend any time behind bars.   

Hourmann moved to Britain where he worked as a doctor but in 2010 British tabloid The Sun launched a campaign against him, dubbing him a “killer doctor” and he became unemployed.

A voice off stage asks Hourmann during the play why he registered Carmen's cause of death as being by lethal injection, which is what led to him being charged.

“If I did not write it, it would be going against my ideas,” he responds, adding he rejects “hypocrisies”.

'End pain'

The play is careful to include the arguments of experts and lawmakers who are “totally opposed to euthanasia,” its director, Alberto San Juan, said.   

A doctor argues in one scene that medical ethics allow physicians to “end pain” but prohibit “ending a patient's life”.   

Euthanasia has long grabbed public attention in Spain, which has the world's second-highest life expectancy.

Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenabar won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2005 for “The Sea Inside”, based on the real story of a paraplegic Spanish fisherman's 29-year campaign to win the right to end his own life with assisted suicide.

Fully 84 percent of Spaniards back euthanasia for terminally ill patients who conserve their mental faculties, according to a survey published last year in daily newspaper La Vanguardia.

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

“The Socialist party is expert in creating inexistant problems,” PP leader Pablo Casado at the time, adding the state should not intervene in people's “conscience”.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux 

READ MORE: Spain takes tentative first step to legalising euthanasia

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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