The euthanasia the debate encompasses moral, religious and public health issues. Only seven countries in the world have approved active euthanasia: Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, Spain and New Zealand. Some states in Australia have legalized it as well.
Colombia is the first and, to date, the only Latin American country to legally practice euthanasia. The land of coffee, where 93 percent of the population is a Roman Catholic or Protestant Christian, legalized euthanasia by his Constitutional Court in 2014. Since then, 157 people have received a lethal injection.
By October 2021, 72 percent of Colombians approved the right to euthanasia. However, the debate was revived following the case of Martha Sepúlveda, which gained international importance.
A 51-year-old woman from Medellín, Sepúlveda was diagnosed in 2018 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurological disease in which nerve cells break down and stop sending messages to muscles, reducing organ function. There is no known cure for the disease, and people often die 3 to 5 years after being diagnosed.
Based on a July Constitutional Court ruling, which extended the right to euthanasia to people with severe physical or mental pain due to injury or illness, Sepúlveda and her family presented her case to the authorities. sanitary facilities. The procedure was approved, making Sepúlveda the first person without terminal illness allowed to receive euthanasia in Colombia.
The intervention was scheduled for Sunday October 10 at 7:00 a.m. But the medical center in charge canceled it less than 36 hours before its scheduled date.
A week earlier, on October 3, Colombian newscast Noticias Caracol reported on the last days of Martha Sepúlveda. In addition to recounting her routine as an ALS patient, the story focused on how Sepúlveda, a believer, lived with the decision to end her life.
History has become a central topic of Colombian conversation, and the Catholic Church, through the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, has urged Sepúlveda to reconsider its decision.
“Martha, I encourage you to think calmly about your decision. … If circumstances permit, [try to] move away from the harassment of the media which did not hesitate to use your pain and that of your family to publicize euthanasia, in a country deeply marked by violence ”, declared Mgr Antonio Ceballos Escobar in the press release .
Catholic Church strongly opposes euthanasia because he considers it contrary to his position on human dignity. The Vatican published a document in 2020, reaffirming that it considers euthanasia to be an act of homicide, where people commit a crime against life and take “the place of God” to decide the moment of death. On the other hand, Catholics believe in the power of health professionals to care for and support the sick.
The television report alerted the committee that approved the case: the patient appeared to be “more functional than she and her relatives reported” during consultations during the application process. After another neurological examination on October 6, the Colombian Pain Institute, Incodol – the center in charge of euthanasia in Sepúlveda – announced the cancellation of the procedure on the night of October 8.
The cancellation has become a national scandal. “In the city of Medellín, Colombia, [Incodol] decided to cancel the assisted dying of Mrs. Martha Lidia Sepúlveda. Her case went viral after it was featured in a TV report, ”journalist Mónica Garza said on Twitter.
In the city of Medellín, Colombia, the desire to cancel the muerte asistida of the sra falls. Martha Lidia Sepúlveda, cuyo caso se viralizó luego de haberse exhibido in a reportaje of televisión. pic.twitter.com/ht2m9vAcNF
– Monica Garza (@monicagarzag) October 9, 2021
“The Ministry of Health later said that the Constitutional Court had not notified it of the July decision. Thus, its legal effects are not yet in force, ”Mariano Bustillo, a Colombian constitutional lawyer, told Zenger.
” It’s wrong. Even if [it is true that] the Constitutional Court did not directly inform the entities concerned, it nevertheless made its decision public by means of a press release and, consequently, the sentence entered into force the day after its vote ”, he added. he declares.
“Despite the influence of the Catholic Church, which has publicly urged Ms. Sepúlveda to retract, the majority of Colombian society approves… euthanasia. What may have had such an impact in Ms Sepúlveda’s case was the TV report where she spoke so openly about her decision to die with dignity, despite being able to move around and take to the streets. “Sandra Gaviria, a Colombian sociologist specializing in religion,” Zenger said.
Gaviria believes that the Colombian government may only be supporting its agencies – the Ministry of Health – with its statements, but it risks rejection by the population.
“Colombia was at the forefront of South America when it legalized euthanasia, but everything turns to hypocrisy” with the Sepúlveda case, Colombian sociologist Camilo Arias told Zenger. “The patient’s family is to blame for not preventing public notoriety. Unfortunately, the refusal of the center to perform the procedure has become international information due to government decisions, ”he said.
Finally, after three weeks in the spotlight, the 20th Court of Medellín ordered the restoration of Martha Sepúlveda’s right to a “dignified death”. The court ruling indicated that the patient met the conditions to undergo euthanasia, even when the medical board had reversed her choice. He also set a 48-hour deadline, starting October 28, to set a new date and time according to the patient’s wishes.
A juez de Colombia ordenó that is applied to euthanasia in Martha Sepúlveda. Recemos para que la vida triunfe y la mujer no ceda a la cultura de muerte. t.co/9mAw9hwWeS
– ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) 28 October 2021
In a letter to the judge and Incodol officials, Sepúlveda expressed his gratitude for the court ruling. She also said that her choice to undergo euthanasia remained firm and that as soon as she decided on a date to perform the procedure, she would notify the authorities to make arrangements.
While the Martha Sepúlveda case is making headlines in Colombia, euthanasia legislation is advancing in other Latin American countries. The Mexican Congress is debating a bill on the subject. The discussion has already reached the Chilean Senate, and Argentines are pushing the issue, hoping Congress will address it.
Translated by Gabriela Alejandra Olmos, edited by Gabriela Alejandra Olmos and Kristen Butler