Why you should care
Because dying with dignity deserves to be in the spotlight.
The stage is empty except for a wooden stool. A middle-aged man enters. He looks at the audience and tells them: “I did it. I made the decision. I filled up the syringe and pressed down. I injected the potassium chloride. I caused death because I believe in life.”
He’s not an actor. He’s Marcos Ariel Hourmann, the first and only doctor to be convicted for practicing euthanasia in Spain. And this is not a normal play. “Celebraré Mi Muerte” (“I Will Celebrate My Death”) is a documentary theater production about why, on March 28, 2005, Hourmann decided to give a lethal injection to an 82-year-old woman named Carmen. And why he would do it again.
“It never crossed my mind that it was going to cause so much personal damage,” he says, sitting at a table in an empty hotel cafeteria near Madrid’s Teatro del Barrio, where Celebraré Mi Muerte has been performed almost every week since it debuted in February.
When Carmen asked Hourmann to end her suffering as her body was shutting down from colon cancer, he agreed and also noted down the injection in the medical records — something no doctor in Spain had done before. He was charged with murder, but the case never made it to trial. A guilty plea meant that he avoided prison and was allowed to continue to practice as a doctor.
Now, years later, after being crucified by the press and shunned by the medical community, Hourmann is staging his own trial — on a stage. In the play, which was inspired by an interview Hourmann did with the popular Spanish current affairs program Salvados, eight audience members sit on the spartan stage as the doctor recounts his story. A large screen flashes images of Hourmann, newspaper clips and facts about euthanasia. And there’s no artifice — he makes jokes, asks the audience for a cigarette, apologizes for rushing part of the story. Music, like the song “Canción Para Mi Muerte” (“Song For My Death”) punctuates key moments.
But aside from that, the experience is much like watching a trial with 100 other people in an intimate setting. At just over an hour, it’s a short but intense performance, ending with the “jury members” writing down their verdict on a piece of paper. Responses have been overwhelmingly “not guilty,” Hourmann says, but there have been a handful of “guilty” verdicts.
Hourmann says it’s been therapeutic. “It is a personal catharsis of so much pain, a way to vomit up everything that we weren’t able to vomit,” he says.
But he also sees it as a way to educate. “The main goal of the work is for people to be aware that death is something that happens to everyone. The second goal is that unnecessary human suffering makes no sense. The third goal is to educate people to respect a person’s wishes to not suffer anymore,” he explains. After every performance, Hourmann, like a kindly professor, lets the audience know he’ll be in the theater foyer if they have any questions.
It comes at a crucial time in the debate around euthanasia in Spain. Around 80 percent of Spaniards support it, according to opinion polls, but the Spanish Congress has never voted in favor of legalizing or regulating the practice. That could change, however, under acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader supports decriminalizing euthanasia — if Sanchez is able to form a government, Spain could become one of the handful of countries (including the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg and Canada) where the practice is legal.
People like Ángel Hernández, 70, are also helping to raise support for the cause. Hernández was arrested in April for helping his terminally ill wife end her life with a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital. The case is now being investigated by a gender violence court, which has caused widespread outrage and has led to a petition, launched by Hourmann.
I left the theater feeling moved, and slightly depressed. It’s a challenging topic, but there are moments of humor that provide levity. As Hourmann explains, “This is not a discussion about euthanasia. This is a discussion about life, human respect, freedom and the fear of death.”
Hourmann is often asked if he would do it all again. Until now, his answer has been no. But the success of “Celebraré Mi Muerte” — it’s received rave reviews and has been so popular it was brought back for a second season — has shifted his position.
“If all this has meant there is a euthanasia law … if I knew that I would end up here talking to you and performing in the work, I would do it again. Despite everything.”
You can see “Celebraré Mi Muerte” at the Teatro del Barrio in Madrid until May 2020. Tickets are €16 ($17.80).