Feature by: Jack Foley
THE issue of euthanasia is an emotive one. Should a person be
allowed to choose whether they want to die, especially if they
suffer from a debilitating disease?
Alternatively, should a relative be given the choice on behalf
of their loved one if they fall into an irreversible coma?
The word euthanasia comes from the Greek 'eu' and 'thanatos',
and means 'a good death'.
Currently, in UK, there is no law that directly deals with euthanasia,
although it is illegal to actively end another person's life for
instance by administering a lethal injection.
The Catholic Church is, however, against it, while plenty of
people disagree with the whole concept.
One of the most high-profile cases of recent years took place
in Spain, involving a ships mechanic named Ramon Sampedro.
Ramon died by assisted suicide in 1998, at the age of 56, after
26 years of being a quadriplegic, caused by a freak accident when
he dove into the sea near his home village in Porto do Son in
Galicia, northwest of Spain.
The case achieved national notoriety in Spain, especially when
his death was televised, but it split a nation into those who
considered him to be a hero, and those who felt he had taken the
Following his accident, Ramon learned to write with his mouth
and cultivated himself with the help of his most intimate friends,
who provided him with books. Many who visited him described him
as an inspiration.
His story has subsequently been turned into an Oscar-nominated
film, The Sea Inside, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, and starring
It has already swept the board at the Goyas, Spain's equivalent
of the Academy Awards, where it picked up 14 of the top prizes,
and is the hot favourite for this year's best foreign language
Critics have hailed it as a life-affirming masterpiece which
marks a personal triumph for both Amenabar (who also serves as
composer, writer and editor) and Bardem, who is regarded by many
as Spain's leading actor.
Needless to say, both are very proud of the film and talk candidly
about the issues it raises.
Bardem, especially, admits that he pondered long and hard about
the morality of the film, especially in terms of how he would
portray Ramon's story.
"No one wants to imagine themselves in that situation, but
that was something he said also, asking people what would happen
if they had an accident and were like him," he explained.
"The first reaction would be
that they would prefer to die. That’s something I can never
fully empathise with, I can only imagine.
"But in order to have an idea, I went to the doctors and
talked to them, and they were telling me about the day-to-day
life of someone like Ramon.
"And I talked to four people with this condition, and the
funny thing was to see how they chose the complete opposite, life.
They all knew Ramon Sampedro and they all respected him."
The story of Ramon Sampedro draws inevitable comparisons with
Superman actor, Christopher Reeve, was became paralysed in a similarly
freakish accident while riding a horse.
Yet far from wanting to die, Reeve become a leading campaigner
for further research into spinal chord injury and remained determined
to overcome his injury. He sadly passed away last year, at the
age of 52.
Asked how Ramon's approach to his physical condition differed
from Reeve's, Amenabar stated: "I think he was the opposite
side of the coin. I truly think both these men were extraordinary.
"When I was writing the film, I was conscious of anyone
who endures and wants to go on living. I didn’t want the
film to be an insult to them.
"I tried to be very careful with that, I didn’t want
to encourage people to kill themselves, but I wanted to tell the
story of this man.
"Eventually, it’s just about asking yourself how much
you love your life. In my case, the more he said he wanted to
die, the more I respected him and at the same time the more alive
It is a measure of the film's sensitivity, however, that it has
subsequently been embraced by Sampedro's family, who cared for
him until his final days.
Adds Bardem: "You have a responsibility when you portray
a real person, you want to really take yourself out of the picture,
to let the character talk for himself. And they loved the movie.
"They felt like it was done with a huge amount of respect,
and that it grabbed deeply what Ramon Sampedro was. And what they
"Even though Ramon’s brother in the film is not the
most sympathetic character, I would say that he understood a little
bit more about himself. It’s about an act of love, it’s
not a selfish situation.
"It’s an act of not letting go of something that he
loves so much. He understood that after watching the movie, because
he wasn’t aware of that."
The Sea Inside is currently playing in UK cinemas.