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The Sea Inside - Eventually, it’s just about asking yourself how much you love your life

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 easy option.

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 Javier Bardem.

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 film.

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 I felt."

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 were also.

"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.

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