23 Nov 2022

Muerte Legal En Colombia

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In 2015, Ovidio González became the first person to die with dignity and legally in Colombia. González was a 79-year-old man whose facial cancer had stolen half his weight, disfigured his face and caused complications when eating and talking, and who had requested euthanasia two years earlier because, as he said, “I know where I`m going and I don`t want to be a wink in bed.” Although the Constitutional Court recognized the right to die with dignity in its 1997 decision C-239, Congress has never succeeded in regulating euthanasia. The 14 initiatives that were passed by the legislature have fallen and now Bill 006 of 2022 attempts to give a legal framework to the Supreme Court`s decision. Colombia was the first country in Latin America to decriminalize euthanasia and is one of the few in the world where it is legal after the Constitutional Court established death as a fundamental right in 1997 in cases of incurable illness when the patient suffered severe pain, voluntarily requested it and was performed by a doctor. From his apartment in Cali, where he was born and died, Escobar knows the importance of his case, unprecedented in Latin America: “This is the door for a patient like me, who suffers from degenerative diseases, to have the opportunity to fight for a dignified death.” Nevertheless, there were several doctors who were willing to take this risk. One of them was Gustavo Quintana, known in Colombia as “Doctor Death,” who performed more than 200 euthanasia cases in 35 years and although he is the only one who dares to speak openly about the subject, he admits that he has many colleagues who have done so despite their legal complications. In 2014, the legality of euthanasia in Colombia was finally settled thanks to the case of a patient who requested medical assistance in dying with terminal cancer. The patient died and waited for the treatment she wanted, and the Constitutional Court eventually decided to reconsider the issue, affirming that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right in Colombia. This time, and despite several mobilizations against him, they forced the Ministry of Health and Social Protection to publish the decree within 30 days.

Since then, euthanasia has been legal in Colombia and anyone who meets the following conditions can access it: euthanasia in Colombia remains a controversial issue, as those who opposed legalization were legal even after its approval; But those who have always been in favor of a dignified death now have legal options to avoid getting involved in legal proceedings, as happened to the protagonist of our story, Carlos Framb. But the Constitutional Court has also called for strict legal regulations to protect the right to life, leaving the issue in a legal vacuum for years. “If we ask for a dignified death, it is because the fatigue of all diseases has already overwhelmed us, for us life ended long ago,” he said from the couch of his modest house, whose mortgage he paid with a pension of $ 250. According to current Colombian legislation, the doctor who receives the request must “verify that it is voluntary, informed and unambiguous” and is obliged to inform the patient of his or her right to palliative care. The history of the legalization of euthanasia in Colombia begins in 1997, when the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the crime of “murder by pardon” and exempted doctors from criminal responsibility if it was a terminally ill person who, in acute pain or suffering, had requested death freely and using his full capacity. Colombia is the only country in Latin America where euthanasia is legal. Worldwide, only 7 countries have legalized this practice, including Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada. The woman, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, had fought tirelessly for a dignified death, which was denied by authorities last September. The Constitutional Court has once again marked historic progress in Colombia with the legalization of physician-assisted© suicide. A court ruling equates the practice with euthanasia and decriminalizes it, opening the door to a new mechanism for Colombians to exercise their right to a dignified death. The main difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia is that in the former case, the patient performs the act of ending his or her life.

Although polls show less and less opposition to euthanasia, there is still a part of the Colombian population that opposes it. The Catholic Church issued a statement in July declaring that “any act or omission intended to cause death in order to suppress pain constitutes murder.” The new constitution was signed in 1991, and only six years later, Judge Carlos Gaviria declared that man`s life must be done in conditions of dignity, and therefore recommended euthanasia. However, in order to approve the decision, Congress was asked to settle it because it had to be implemented in an orderly and legal manner. But this only happened in 2015, so euthanasia in Colombia remained in a gray area: legal but unregulated. One of those confusing scenarios, where problems arise easily. Nearly two decades later, in 2014, the issue was raised again when a new court ruling gave the Ministry of Health 30 days to settle the right to a dignified death. The initiative is led by the representative of the Liberal Party, Juan Carlos Losada, who acknowledged that “the right to a dignified death is closely linked to other fundamental rights”. As examples, the congressman mentioned the free development of personality, autonomy, the right to life, “which entails death as the final act of the person”, human dignity and equality. Euthanasia, although legal, is stigmatized in Colombia, as evidenced by the case of Martha Sepúlveda, who in October 2021 had her procedure cancelled a few hours before it was performed. One of the reasons was his appearance in the media, which led the clinic`s medical committee to change its initial verdict. Sepúlveda, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was to be the first non-terminal patient to receive euthanasia. The procedure has already been approved by a judge, but has not yet been carried out.

No one ever denounced Quintana because there is no way to prove that what he was doing was a crime. In addition, in order to protect himself legally, Quintana always asked for a will in which the patient wrote down why he wanted to die and in which he clearly indicated that he was doing so of his own free will. But it was never necessary to show this will. In addition, Quintana El Espectador said that he sometimes wants someone to pursue him to see how far the complaint goes, because in his opinion, he is an “honest man” and what he does, he does with a clear conscience. Sepúlveda died today at the age of 51 at the Colombian Institute of Pain (Incodol) in the city of Medellín after a tireless struggle for his right to die with dignity, which has been legal in Colombia since 1997, although it was only exercised in 2015. Colombia is one of only five countries in the world that legally allow euthanasia. It is the only one in Latin America. To complement our episode Jump the Wall, we wanted to explain how a predominantly Catholic and conservative country has implemented progressive policies that govern the decision to terminate life when a patient suffers from an incurable disease. A policy that regulates what many have called “the right to die with dignity.” Lucas Correa Montoya, research director at the Laboratory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (DescLAB) and expert who filed the lawsuit in court, explains: “Unlike euthanasia, where a doctor is the one who causes the death of the person, by physician-assisted© suicide, the doctor simply provides help or support so that the person is the one who causes their death. DescLAB`s lawsuit makes Colombia the first country in Latin America to allow physician-assisted© suicide.

“This procedure is in addition to those that already exist in Colombia and are completely legal: euthanasia, adequacy of therapeutic effort©and palliative care,” says Correa. This euthanasia takes place just one day after this Friday Victor Escobar, 60, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and hypertension, among others, became the first Colombian to receive euthanasia without being an incurable patient and after making the decision to have “a dignified death”.