Days after the assisted suicide of the terminally ill Brittany Maynard in the US, Colombia’s Congress on Tuesday decided to debate a bill permitting euthanasia under some circumstances.
The debate on euthanasia was revived in the wake of the much discussed case of Maynard, a US citizen who ended her own life over the weekend after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. By making her desire to put to death rather than undergoing the “undignified” last phase of her illness public, Maynard became the public face of pro-euthanasia campaign.
The euthanasia law was authorized by the Colombian Constitutional Court in 1997 and exists in the penal code under the “assisted suicide” label. However, the project has never been regulated by the Congress. In consequence, the exact conditions allowing the use of euthanasia have not been specified in Colombia, a strictly Catholic country.
Euthanasia is thus seldom practiced, as doctors run the high risk of facing full responsibility for the death of their patient, regardless of the circumstances.
The new project was filed by senator Armando Benedetti of the ruling center-right coalition, who said that the case of Maynard should serve as an incentive for reflection about people who suffer incurable diseases and wish to end their suffering.
“Reviving the debate on euthanasia in Colombia helps lowering the levels of ignorance about the topic,” said Benedetti.
The draft presented by the senator indicates that euthanasia should be permitted when scientific knowledge dictates that there is no cure and in patients whose illnesses produce “severe pain, suffering or continuous condition of high dependency and disability the person deems degradable.”
It further specifies that “if the patient is in such a physical condition that is impossible for him or her to sign the request for termination of life, another previously designated adult person can sign the agreement in the name of the sufferer, as long as it has no material interest in the patient’s death.”
“If you live in dignity, you should also be able to die with dignity because life is not only about breathing.” concludes the text of the project.
When asked about the possibility of the regulation being affected by religious discourse, Benedetti admitted “that in the past, it was the strongest argument to revoke the project,” before adding that “we have always had trouble with those who say that life is given to us by God. We should have legislation for those who believe differently. The government ought to legislate for the two sectors.”
According to Carmenza Ochoa, the director of the Foundation for the Right to Die in Dignity, there are no statistics on how many people choose euthanasia to end their own lives in Colombia.
“But I can tell you that not many cases. Because of religious and cultural beliefs people see death as an evil act when it should be seen as an act of love. I dare say that they are just around 20 cases a year.”
A project regulating euthanasia law was approved by Congressional Committee in 2012, but failed to pass the plenary session of the Colombian Senate due to lack of support.
- Reviven proyecto para reglamentar eutanasia en Colombia (El Espectador)
- Ley para permitir la eutanasia se debatirá en Colombia (El Comercio)
- ¿Qué dice la legislación colombiana sobre la eutanasia? (El Pais)