Martha Sepúlveda, a 51-year-old Colombian woman, had scheduled her death for Sunday, October 10 at 7 in the morning.
The woman, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was to be the first person in Colombia to receive euthanasia without having a terminal illness. “I am calmer since the procedure was authorized, I laugh more and sleep more calmly. The best thing that will happen to me is to rest, “he said in an interview with Cadena Caracol.
A few hours before the intervention, Sepúlveda’s euthanasia was canceled.
The Interdisciplinary Scientific Committee for the Right to Die with Dignity “unanimously concluded to cancel the procedure” by determining that “the termination criterion is not met as it had been considered in the first committee” that evaluated his case, sAccording to the statement quoted by the BBC.
According to the Ministry of Health, “so far, in Colombia, there have been no euthanasias that do not comply with the terminal illness requirement”, that said practice “is regulated under this precept” and that all the cases of which it claims to have knowledge “meet that characteristic.”
Colombia was the first Latin American country to decriminalize euthanasia, in 1997. Since 2015, it is considered a fundamental right in case of terminal illness, when the patient suffers a lot of pain, voluntarily requests it and is carried out by a doctor.
Colombia is part of the small group of countries in the world in which euthanasia is legal: Holland and Belgium, since 2002; Luxembourg, 2009; Canada, 2016; New Zealand, 2020, and Spain, 2021.
What is euthanasia and how is it applied?
Euthanasia consists of causing the death of a patient at their own request through the administration of drugs or lethal substances.
Euthanasia is often confused or used as a synonym for assisted death or dignified death. This is incorrect. In assisted death, the doctor provides the patient with the information and medication necessary to kill himself, but it must be the patient who takes the medication himself.
A dignified death is a human right, a natural extension of the fundamental right to live with dignity. According to the Foundation for the Right to Die with Dignity, ldignified death refers to to the guarantee that people have to exercise their autonomy at the end of life.
“This is not a unidimensional right, but a set of powers that allow an individual or whoever validly represents him before the Law, to make free and informed decisions and have control over the process of his death, imposing limits on third parties, family, health professionals and the State, on what can or cannot be done with regard to their body, integrity and life ”, according to the organization based in Colombia.
In this way, euthanasia can be understood as a mechanism to guarantee a dignified death.
Situation in Latin America
Currently, direct euthanasia is prohibited in all Latin American countries (except Colombia). Depending on the country, there are laws that allow passive euthanasia:
In Argentina it is a right for all citizens to be able to choose a dignified death, according to the Law of the Right to the Patient No. 26,742.
This law allows terminally ill patients to refuse “surgical procedures, artificial resuscitation or the withdrawal of life support measures when they are extraordinary or disproportionate in relation to the prospect of improvement, or cause disproportionate suffering.”
This means that death is not caused, but the patient is allowed to die. This law was approved in 2012 based on the case of Camila Sánchez, a baby who had been born in a vegetative state and her parents asked to disconnect her from the machines that kept her alive.
In the Bolivian penal system there is the figure of pious homicide, that is, the act of ending life inspired by the humanitarian feeling of avoiding the prolongation of suffering caused by a disease considered incurable, and on condition that it is the patient himself who asks to be put to death.
The Plurinational Legislative Assembly proposes to make his sentence more flexible, while, for the Medical Association of Bolivia, this implies legalizing euthanasia, since it facilitates the assisted death of a person.
According to article 121 of the Penal Code, euthanasia is considered a crime of homicide, and, depending on the circumstances, the conduct of the agent can also be configured as a crime of inducing, instigating or assisting in suicide.
It is forbidden for a doctor to shorten the medical life of a patient, even at the request of the patient or his legal representative.
However, orthothanasia is guaranteed by the Constitution. This aims to guarantee a dignified death to the terminal patient, who has the autonomy to refuse inhuman and degrading treatment.
Since 2012, patients in terminal states can refuse the continuity of treatment.
In December 2020, the Chamber of Deputies approved the bill of “Dignified death and palliative care” that seeks that a person can request medical assistance to die. This law has yet to be approved by the Senate.
It does not include minors and excludes the cause of mental ailments.
In September 2021, President Nayib Bukele, withdrew from the constitutional reform proposal, the possibility of legalizing therapeutic abortion and equal marriage.
“I have decided, so that there is no doubt, not to propose any type of reform to any article that has to do with the right to life (from the moment of conception), with marriage (keeping only the original design, a a man and a woman), or with euthanasia, ”he said.
At the end of 2019, the initiative to approve the “Regulatory Law of the Procedure for a Dignified Death due to Terminal Illness or Serious Bodily Injury” was presented to the Guatemalan Congress.
Aguascalientes, Michoacán and Mexico City are the only territories where passive euthanasia is legal.
This means that the law allows terminally ill people – or their closest relatives if unconscious – to refuse medication and treatment that can extend life.
Laws prohibit euthanasia, although recently, Ana Estrada, a psychologist who has suffered from a degenerative disease for 30 years, obtained a ruling in favor of the Judiciary to die with dignity when she decides to do so.
Euthanasia is illegal in Uruguay, although recent polls show that the majority of Uruguayans are in favor of legalizing it.
Law No. 18,473, also known as the “Anticipated Will” or “Good Dying Law”, regulates the freedom of a patient to refuse treatment, including palliative care in the event of a terminal, incurable and irreversible illness.
Anyone who intentionally causes the death of another person (assisted) is penalized. However, orthothanasia is accepted, as long as brain death has been certified and the authorization of family members is obtained.
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Pro Right to Die with Dignity Foundation.