Andrés Ortiz-Osés, theologian, philosopher, priest, professor of hermeneutics, professor emeritus at the University of Deusto, sits in a wicker chair. It is May 20, 2021. He is 74 years old and has a cancer with metastases in the digestive system that has been haunting him for four years, with chemotherapy sessions that leave him depressed and a constant, unbearable pain, which he barely manages to drive away with morphine. During the last few months, sitting in this courtyard of the old San Carlos Seminary, a magnificent 16th century building located in the old town of Zaragoza and converted into a residence for elderly priests, he has spoken at length with José Luis Trasobares, who in addition to being a journalist is President of the association Right to Die with dignity (DMD) of Aragon.
Today’s appointment is special. Ortiz-Osés feels that the end is near and wants to leave a recorded testimony of his suffering and his convinced support for euthanasia – which had already been approved by the Courts, but had not yet entered into force. Almost four years earlier, in June 2017, Trasobares received an email from a new member asking him to come see him at the residence for elderly priests: “The truth is that I was quite upset. Priest and DMD partner? The first conversation was in the library. He told me about his cancer, about the chemo sessions that left him to drag, about his willingness to avoid reaching a point where the physical degradation and pain he was dragging would plunge him into despair. He asked us if euthanasia would become legal. He even told us that a friend had proposed to him to go live in the Netherlands, where he could exercise the right to voluntary death, and that another had told him about a substance that could be purchased through the Internet and that would give him a sweet dream. which would end in cardiorespiratory arrest. He spoke of all this without lowering his voice, while other elderly priests entered, left or sat to read under a room decorated with pictures of virgins, martyrs and high dignitaries of the clergy. At the time, the situation seemed surreal to me. Later, when I was confident enough, I asked Andrés about the apparent contradiction between his status as a priest and his position in favor of euthanasia ”.
The philosopher and the journalist have talked about it a lot in these four years, but now they are going to do it in front of a video camera. Ortiz-Osés is very thin, haggard, his voice is no longer the one that dazzled his Deusto students for decades, but there is still a trace of his genius and his gaze retains its brilliance. Not without effort, he answers the question that Trasobares wanted to ask him that day they spoke for the first time at the old seminary:
—Andrés, you are a theologian, a philosopher, a professor, but besides that you are a priest and you are here in this religious environment. How is it possible that you are considering euthanasia as an alternative when the ecclesiastical hierarchy is against it?
‘What is failing here is authentic, compassionate religion itself. If you face death, you know you are going to die. So what you have to do is assume it, articulate it, benevolize it, humanize it … There is such a closure that it is causing a lot of suffering in people. I, for example, now have immeasurable sufferings. Crying. At my age … What can be done? I believe that evolution will come through compassionate humanism. Perhaps I am the least indicated to answer, since I am suffering. I am an expert, but in suffering. I am suffering more than I had imagined, and that I have been an orphan, that my father was murdered, that my mother died as a result of that … But I had never imagined that I could go to these extremes of pain. It is terrifying that this happens in a Church founded by Jesus, one of the most outspoken Socrates in history. Jesus assumed a truly terrifying death, but because he wanted to, and assuming it… Therefore, there are very deep religious taboos.
José Luis Trasobares asks him in front of the camera what, in his opinion, would be the most humane solution for patients who want to shorten their lives to escape suffering, incurable disease. Ortiz-Osés asks: “Why isn’t an alliance made between euthanasia, new euthanasias, and the right to die with dignity? That is, shortening life through intermediate methods between death and shortening, between pure and hard euthanasia and shortening. You have all the legal, ethical, instrumental instruments … Finally [la ley de la eutanasia] It has been confirmed by the Cortes, but it has fallen short in terms of not being able to advance, to deepen, with a lot of unnecessary, ridiculous enemies. The only bad thing here is dying badly. Not death. If death is an eternal rest, if death is nirvana, if death is transcendence for both religious and non-religious. And, therefore, why this stubbornness with the subject of death? Because it is the last taboo, the maximum darkness. And the result is that they are letting us die in a bad way… I no longer eat anything, I don’t feel like it, I don’t feel like it… I’m already a corpse ”.
Trasobares says that the last few months were a real ordeal for Andrés Ortiz-Osés: “The morphine was a relief. But that dull ache never left him. He was emaciated, pale, always freezing to death. For hours he stayed in his room lying on the bed. We exchanged emails. The possibility of ending up in Tobías, a center of the archdiocese where they take very sick priests who can no longer be in the San Carlos residence frightened him. In May we even considered the possibility of taking him to an apartment he had in Zaragoza to organize terminal sedation there, but it was very complicated because it was going to be necessary to refurbish the house that had been empty for years ”.
Ortiz-Osés is saying goodbye to his loved ones. From his niece Máxima Ortiz, from his friend, the professor at the University of the Basque Country, Luis Garagalza. Both, contacted by this newspaper, have confirmed the philosopher’s desire for a painless death and were aware of his contacts with the association for the Right to Die with Dignity. His niece highlights the humanity of the palliative care service that administered the terminal sedation. On June 10, at 2:46 p.m., Ortiz-Osés sends his last email to Trasobares. It draws attention for two things. It is a message of only five lines – his used to be long and full of details – and it is also full of misprints, something inappropriate about him. He tells him that he continues to suffer, that he feels lazy, “wrecked”, and that he wants to “transcend at once, leave, cut.” He informs him that he has spoken with the priest Carlos Palomero, the director of the nursing home for elderly priests who has always been very respectful of his way of thinking, to get him in contact with palliative care. The last line of the mail says: “I am sending you this letter with its imperfections so that you know, Andrés.” It is almost a coded message. He no longer has the strength to correct misprints, to find the perfect word. He would have liked to meet death in another way, but at least he has left a seed for others to achieve it.
Eight days after that email, and seven before the euthanasia law comes into force in Spain, Andrés Ortiz-Osés dies.
“The more my suffering progresses, the less I understand that they don’t give me a channel to avoid it.” The only bad thing here is dying badly, not death.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.