Dr Luis Montes, defender of the right to a “good death” has died, aged 69

Luis Montes at a meeting of his association in 2011.
Luis Montes at a meeting of his association in 2011. / EFE
  • The anaesthetist was accused of malpractice for allegedly sedating 400 terminally ill patients but the case was eventually shelved due to lack of evidence

They tried to turn him into “Dr Death” but anaesthetist Luis Montes insisted that, in fact, he was fighting “for life”. He used to say that “a decent life deserves a good death”. Dr Montes died last week as he was travelling by car to Murcia to give a conference as president of the Association for the Right To A Dignified Death. He was 69.

The Luis Montes case hit the headlines on 8 March 2005. The Madrid health authority had received anonymous reports that terminally ill patients were being given excessive sedation; the reports spoke of 400 deaths. The head of the Emergency Department, Luis Montes, the medical director and hospital manager were dismissed by the regional government, whose president at the time was Esperanza Aguirre; investigations were carried out and cases were filed with the prosecution authorities. Staff at the Severo Ochoa hospital held several protest demonstrations in support of Montes and his colleagues and different medical associations insisted that the sedation was commonly used in many hospitals.

Different technical reports concluded that there had been unsuitable or contraindicated sedation, but none could prove that it had caused the patients' deaths. The case was finally shelved in June 2007 because “there is no absolute certainty of a cause and effect relationship between the administration of sedatives and the deaths”.

A year later, the provincial court determined that there had been no medical mispractice at the Severo Ochoa hospital, and the case was shelved definitively.

As soon as he received notification of this Dr Montes declared that he had no intention of forgiving and forgetting, because he considered that the treatment he and his colleagues at the Severo Ochoa hospital had received was an attack on the public health system, had discredited him and led his patients to lose confidence in him.

Despite having been exonerated, Dr Montes was not readmitted as emergency coordinator in Leganés, although he did return to work as an anaesthetist at the hospital. In 2009 he and another of the doctors involved started legal proceedings against the regional Health minister Manuel Lamela and other politicians in Madrid for falsely accusing them. The case was shelved. The same year, he became the president of the Association for the Right to a Dignified Death.

“Medicine must prevent suffering and guarantee the quality of death, an expression that I prefer to 'dignified death'. We all have the right to die well. Life is a natural right and a lucid adult should be able to make their own decisions about it. It is a right which should be protected,” he used to explain in lectures.