The people of Galicia are so guarded, other Spaniards joke, that if you catch one of them on a staircase, you'll never discover whether he or she had been going up or down. But Ramon Sampedro, of the Galician fishing village of Xuno, 620 km northwest of Madrid, could not be more open about his intentions: he wants to die--so much so that he has asked the European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg to declare it his entitlement.

Apart from the ability to shake his head and an occasional involuntary flailing of his arms, the 52-year-old Sampedro is a prisoner...

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