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Spain allows suspected gunman to be euthanized before trial, angering victims

Spain's assisted suicide law is in the spotlight after doctors allowed the death of a former security guard who faced trial for having allegedly stormed his former workplace a year ago, shooting and wounding three people and later a police officer.

Eugen Sabau, known in Spain as "the Tarragona gunman," applied for euthanasia in June, six months after he was left with quadriplegia when police subdued him in a shootout following the attack on Dec. 14 in the northeastern city. 

Victims had argued that Sabau should not be helped to die before his trial, but two Spanish courts ruled that the accused's right to seek assisted suicide prevailed. The man died Tuesday in a prison in northeastern Spain. Sabau was 46 at the time of his death, according to AFP. 

In March 2021, Spain became the fourth country in Europe to allow physician-assisted suicide for patients with incurable diseases and for people with unbearable permanent conditions.

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A policeman at the location of the shooting on December 14, 2021 in Maspujols, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.  Photo By Lorena Sopena/Europa Press via Getty Images

A Tarragona court ruled that Sabau suffered unbearable pain with no possibility of relief and agreed with the medical commission that delaying his death until after the trial violated the accused's dignity and rights.

"I am paraplegic," Sabau previously told the judge, according to AFP. "I have 45 stitches in my hand. I can't move my left arm. I have screws (in my body) and I can no longer feel my chest."

José Antonio Bitos, a lawyer for the injured police officer, said Wednesday that Spain's assisted suicide law had been rushed in and should be reformed to prevent similar cases in the future. He said the case set a precedent and could potentially be used by defendants who find themselves in similar circumstances and face lengthy sentences if convicted.

Ramón Riu, an expert in constitutional law, told Spanish National Television that the case "is a precedent and courts will certainly take it into account in the future but they will not be obliged to follow the same criteria."

Bitos took the case to the European Human Rights Court but was unsuccessful in getting a stay. He said he hopes the court will study the case and urge Spain to make changes.

Sabau, a Romanian with Spanish residency, had problems with the private security firm he worked for and had warned several colleagues that he would take revenge. Bitos said he never apologized for what he had done.

The lawyer said it was now unclear how the four victims, who sustained serious injuries, may claim compensation, given that there will be no trial.

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