By Lee Bullen
A 51-year-old woman has died by euthanasia after a legal battle to exercise the right to die in Colombia.
Martha Sepúlveda died on Jan. 8 by euthanasia at the Instituto Colombiano del Dolor in Medellín after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease.
Her death was announced in a statement by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which works on human rights causes.
“Martha Sepúlveda agreed to euthanasia and died in accordance with her idea of autonomy and dignity,” the organization said.
“Martha left with gratitude to all the people who accompanied and supported her, who prayed for her and exchanged words of love and empathy during these difficult months.”
Euthanasia was decriminalized in Colombia in 1997, but the right to die only became law in 2015.
In July 2021, the country’s Constitutional Court extended the right to a dignified death for those who suffer from “intense physical or mental suffering” due to an incurable injury or illness.
Sepúlveda’s case became the first in which euthanasia was authorized in a patient without a terminal illness.
She was supposed to be euthanized on Oct. 10, 2021. However, the private clinic that treated her announced the suspension of the procedure 36 hours prior to the date.
The Interdisciplinary Scientific Commission for the Right to Die with Dignity “unanimously decided to cancel the procedure” after determining that “the criteria of terminal illness was not fulfilled as considered by the first commission.”
The court revoked the suspension of the procedure at the end of October and instructed the clinic to comply “with what was established” in a ruling on Aug. 6 after an expert panel determined that the patient met “the requirements to exercise her right to die with dignity through euthanasia.”
The court said the clinic had violated the woman’s “fundamental right to die with dignity” and set a new date for euthanasia.
The case sparked debate in the country about the right to opt for assisted death.
In a September interview with Caracol TV, Sepúlveda said: “On the spiritual plane, I’m totally calm… I’ll be a coward, but I don’t want to suffer anymore. I’m tired. I’m fighting to rest.
“I’m Catholic and I consider myself a believer, but God doesn’t want to see me suffer. With my ALS in its current state, the best thing that can happen to me is for me to rest.”
Since being diagnosed with ALS, Sepúlveda’s son, Federico, said her life became unbearable, and the news that she could end it was a relief to her.
The day before Sepúlveda died, Victor Escobar, 60, benefiting from the path created by Sepúlveda, became the first patient to undergo the procedure without having a terminal illness in Latin America.
Escobar suffered from several incurable degenerative diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension. He also had two strokes in 2007 and 2008.
In the last years of his life, he had crippling mobility problems and needed oxygen every day.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Kristen Butler
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