Medically Assisted Suicide Is Legal In Colombia

Justice decriminalized physician-assisted suicide in Colombia, the first country in Latin America where doctors can help a patient die without going to jail, as determined by the highest constitutional court.

Unlike euthanasia, which can only be applied by a doctor and is already legal in Colombia, the patient can now administer a lethal drug under the supervision of a doctor.

“The doctor who helps those who suffer intense suffering or serious illness and freely decides to dispose of their own life, acts within the constitutional framework,” said the Constitutional Court in a ruling released this Thursday.

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By a vote of six to three, the magistrates repealed an article of the criminal code that punished anyone who assisted a suicide with 12 to 36 months in prison, even if the person who decided to die was sick.

According to the Right to Die Dignified Foundation (DMD), the difference between euthanasia – legal in Colombia since 1997 – and assisted suicide “is, basically, who administers the drug.”

“In the case of euthanasia, it is the health personnel who administer the medication that causes death and in the case of assisted suicide, it is the patient who self-administers the medication that another person has provided,” explains the international NGO.

Despite being the only Latin American country and one of the few in the world to decriminalize euthanasia, Colombian law punished anyone who helped commit suicide.

However, inducing suicide, or persuasion of a patient to carry it out, will continue to be a crime.

69.2% of Colombians agree with euthanasia, even in non-terminal patients, according to a survey by the firm Invamer.

Barriers

With the ruling, “the aid to suicide, when it is carried out by a doctor and strict requirements are met, ceases to be a crime,” lawyer Lucas Correa, from the Laboratory of Economic and Social Rights, summed up on the radio station W Radio. and Cultural (DescLab), which challenged the law.

According to the court, this practice will be allowed only for people who are under “intense physical or mental suffering, from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease.”

These are the same conditions in force to access euthanasia, which in principle was reserved for terminal patients, but was made more flexible last year by the same court.

Those who fail to comply with these requirements will continue to be prosecuted and eventually sentenced to up to nine years in prison.

Although Colombia takes a new step in the recognition of rights related to dignified death, in practice there are legal gaps that undermine access to procedures.

“If a person wants to access assisted suicide at this time, since there are no protocols, very surely the health institutions (…) are going to deny it and the patients will have to go” to a protection resource to demand it, he told the AFP Diana Bernal, director of the Master’s in Biolaw and Bioethics at the Universidad del Rosario.

According to the expert, the Ministry of Health must define within the regulatory framework the drugs that can be used in these cases.

Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg also allow euthanasia, while Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and some states in the United States and Australia regulate assisted suicide under different conditions, according to data from the DMD Foundation.

At least 157 people have received euthanasia in Colombia, according to official figures.

progressive cut

For the court, the contested law ignored “human dignity and the rights to a dignified life, a dignified death and the free development of the personality.”

During the discussion of physician-assisted suicide, the conservative Iván Duque government expressed its rejection, arguing that only Congress could make a decision.

“Adding another option for medically assisted death without due and adequate in-depth discussion can have negative repercussions,” the Ministry of Health warned in a letter sent to the court.

The Executive has not yet reacted to the ruling

With the release of assisted suicide, euthanasia and abortion until week 24, the court put Colombia at the forefront of Latin America despite being a country with deeply conservative roots.

However, justice also protects the right to conscientious objection of doctors.

In their ruling this Thursday, the magistrates urged Congress to “eliminate the still existing barriers to access” to a dignified death.

This was the case of Martha Sepúlveda, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Her euthanasia was canceled at the last minute by a medical committee on the grounds that she still had a “high chance” of survival.

Sepulveda contested that decision and was euthanized in January.

Reliable, trustworthy and easy. Multimedia news agency in Spanish.

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