Health & Science

In Colombia, first two legal euthanasia for patients with non-terminal illnesses

Two Colombians died by euthanasia without suffering terminal illnesses after tedious legal battles.

Colombian Victor Escobar in October 2021
Victor Escobar, 60, became the first person in Colombia to undergo euthanasia for a non-terminal disease | © Edwin Rodriguez Pipicano via Reuters, October 2021

On January 7, Victor Escobar died by legally regulated euthanasia without suffering from a terminal illness. It was a first in Colombia and was followed by another assisted suicide the following day.

We reached the goal for patients like me, who aren’t terminal but degenerative, to win this battle, a battle that opens the doors for the other patients who come after me and who right now want a dignified death,” Victor Escobar, 60, said in a video message.

He suffered from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The disease was diagnosed in 2015. It greatly diminished his quality of life and suffered from a number of other conditions, such as hemiplegia or diabetes.

Escobar had been fighting for his right to euthanasia since October 2020 despite opposition from doctors, clinics and courts claiming he was not a terminal patient or that the disease was not incurable. Yet, the Constitutional Court last year recognized the procedure should not be available just for the terminally ill.

Legal battles to receive euthanasia

In November, a court in Cali nullified his request, meaning that he was supposed to start the process all over again. But a month later, the Civil Court of Cali eventually ordered doctors to satisfy his request. He spent his last hours surrounded by his loved ones and ordered a guinea pig for his last meal.

On January 8, Martha Sepulveda, a Colombian woman with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, was euthanized in Medellin. Her amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neuromuscular disease, was diagnosed in 2018. She was supposed to be euthanized in October last year but the procedure was stopped two days before. A medical committee determined she no longer met the conditions at the last minute.

In Colombia, penalties for euthanasia under certain circumstances were removed by the Constitutional Court in 1997. The Court also ordered to regulate the procedure in 2014. The first person with a terminal illness died with regulated euthanasia in 2015.

As of October last year, 178 people with terminal illnesses had been legally euthanized in Colombia since 2015, according to Colombian legal rights advocacy group DescLAB. The Constitutional Court started to discuss the extension of abortion rights last November and would give its ruling in 2022.

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