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Colombia’s highest court extends euthanasia rights to those with non-terminal illnesses

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Constitutional Court of Colombia on Thursday issued a judicial decision extending the cases in which euthanasia or assisted death – legal in the country since 1997- to include cases of non-terminal illnesses.

With six votes in favor, the Court’s full chamber decided to allow the fundamental right to die with dignity in a medically assisted form for non-terminal patients “provided that the patient is in intense physical or psychological suffering, resulting from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness.”

Colombia was the first Latin American country to decriminalize euthanasia, and one of the few in the world where it is legal, after the Constitutional Court in 1997 enshrined dignified death as a fundamental right in the case of terminal illness, when the patient is in severe pain, requests it voluntarily and it is performed by a physician.

Euthanasia or assisted death – legal in the country since 1997- may now be requested for non-terminal illnesses. (Photo internet reproduction)

This new Court decision, which amends the “mercy homicide” in the Criminal Code that formerly imposed penalties of up to 54 months in prison, removes the initial requirement that the person requesting death must suffer from a terminal illness, and does so based on persistent obstacles to the exercise of this fundamental right in the country.

Consequently, it urges Congress to legislate for “progress in the protection of the fundamental right to die with dignity, in order to eliminate the obstacles that still exist for the effective access to this right.”

Although it has been legal since 1997, the exercise of this right only began in 2015, and the procedures still face barriers, such as the fact that it is only performed in certain cities and many medical facilities do not know how to proceed.

In addition, Parliament has for years blocked bills that seek to regulate dignified death.

FEWER THAN 100 PROCEDURES

Last month, the debate on euthanasia once again made headlines in the country, after the case of Yolanda Caparro, a 71-year-old educator and activist with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis who fought for more than a year to be given the right to die with dignity, after judges and doctors denied it despite the pain she was suffering because they considered that she was not on the verge of death.

Only 94 euthanasia procedures have been performed in the country from April 2015 through May 8, 2020, according to the Ministry of Health, which counts the cases since the procedure became permitted. In addition, for every 5 requests made in the country, only 2 are performed, according to official data.

Most of these procedures were performed in Bogotá or in the department of Antioquia, and almost 9 out of 10 were for people with a cancer-related diagnosis.

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