Bogotá, Colombia: Colombia on Thursday became the first Latin American country to authorize physician-assisted suicide for patients under medical supervision, according to a constitutional court decision.
The country’s highest court has ruled that a doctor can help a critically ill patient commit suicide by using a deadly drug without risking jail time.
Colombia already allows euthanasia when a doctor administers a drug that ends a patient’s life. “The doctor who helps a person with severe suffering or a serious illness and freely disposes of his life acts within the framework of the constitutional law,” reads Thursday’s court verdict, passed by a vote of six to three.
Colombia decriminalized euthanasia in 1997, and in July 2021 a Supreme Court extended this “right to a dignified death” to those not suffering from a terminal illness.
According to official figures, fewer than 200 people in Colombia have chosen euthanasia since 1997. It is the first and only Latin American country to have taken this step, and one of the few in the world, despite being predominantly Roman Catholic.
The Church is categorically against euthanasia and assisted suicide. “Intense” suffering According to the Right to Die With Dignity Foundation (DMD), the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide “is basically who administers the drug.”
“In the case of euthanasia, it is the medical staff who administer the drugs that lead to death, and in the case of assisted suicide, it is the patient who administers the drugs that another person provided to himself,” explained he. Despite the decriminalization of euthanasia, a doctor still risked 12 to 36 months in prison for helping a person end their own life.
Thursday’s court ruling said that assisted suicide is only permitted for people who are experiencing “intense physical or mental suffering as a result of serious and untreatable physical injury or illness.” A doctor who acts outside this framework can still be sentenced to up to nine years in prison.
According to the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, “euthanasia” in one form or another is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Austria, and some Australian states. and some in the United States. Elsewhere in Latin America, the Chilean parliament last year approved a bill that would allow euthanasia for adults.
It still requires Senate approval. And a court in Peru last April ordered the government to respect a woman with polio’s wish to die, a rare concession to euthanasia in that country.