By Sabela Ojea
MADRID (Reuters) – The arrest of a 69-year-old Spaniard on homicide charges after he helped his terminally ill wife end her life has reignited a divisive debate on euthanasia, raising its profile as a campaign issue three weeks before a national election.
The economy has tended to dominate previous Spanish elections but social topics have taken precedence in the run-up to the ballot on April 28, with women’s rights and national identity also high on politicians’ agendas.
Angel Hernandez turned himself in to authorities on Wednesday, becoming an unwitting vehicle for political points-scoring in the process after, he said, giving Maria Jose Carrasco, 61, a fatal dose of barbiturates.
He was freed the next day to await trial and faces two to 10 years in jail if convicted.
A survey in 2017 showed 84 percent of Spaniards support euthanasia, and the head of a centre-right party said four days after Hernandez’s arrest that it would end its opposition to a euthanasia law.
But significant pockets of resistance remain in the traditionally Catholic country, and both the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox continue to oppose its decriminalisation.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a pre-campaign rally on Sunday that, if he got parliamentary majority “euthanasia will be recognised as a right”.
That followed a bill his minority Socialist government submitted last year to make Spain Europe’s fourth country to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, which the PP and Ciudadanos blocked.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said in a Sunday television interview he now supported euthanasia and a bill on “death with dignity” guaranteeing good palliative care, and urged the PP to rethink.
But PP leader Pablo Casado has ruled this out, and criticised the Socialists for trying to use the Hernandez case in campaigning.
“Being dramatic, it should be excluded from the electoral agenda,” he told broadcaster La Sexta.
Vox, which also opposes abortion and gay marriage and is expected to win parliamentary seats for the first time this month, also maintains its opposition to euthanasia.
Referring to the case, its leader Santiago Abascal told Antena 3 TV channel on Monday: “We are not in favour of ending any person’s life (and)… we should not allow a husband to kill his wife”.
Carrasco had been suffering from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease, for more than 30 years.
In a video retransmitted by local media that he recorded last week, Hernandez tells his wife: “You’ve asked me for this many times, more times than necessary, but I was confident the euthanasia (bill) would be approved … So you insist you want to commit suicide?”
Carrasco replies: “Yes … the sooner the better”.
(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and John Stonestreet)