The Constitutional Court of Colombia has authorized drug-assisted suicide for patients, under the supervision of a doctor, a first in Latin America, according to a judgment transmitted Thursday, May 13.
“The doctor who helps a person in the throes of intense suffering or serious illness and who freely decides to dispose of his own life acts within the constitutional framework”, ruled the Court. By a vote of six judges against three, it thus repealed an article of the Penal Code punishing from 12 to 36 months any person providing assistance to suicide, and “preventing a physician from providing the necessary assistance to a person who, in the exercise of personal autonomy, chooses to (…) die with dignity”.
→ READ. Colombia: the cancellation of euthanasia revives the debate on the end of life
Colombia, where euthanasia has already been legal since 1997, thus becomes the first country in Latin America to authorize assisted suicide for patients suffering from a serious or incurable disease: the patient will now be able to administer a lethal product, under the supervision of a doctor who no longer risks any penalty.
Difference Between Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
“The doctor is the one who has the best technical, scientific and ethical tools to guarantee the safeguard of human dignity in this procedure”the court said. “The advances of science must be used in an altruistic and supportive way towards those who are in an extreme state of health and who desire a dignified death”she concluded.
According to the Colombian Foundation for the Right to Death with Dignity (DMD), the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide “essentially resides in the person who administers the lethal drug”. “In the case of euthanasia, it is the health personnel who administer the drug that causes death, and in the case of assisted suicide, it is the patient who administers himself the drug that someone another gave it to him”explains the NGO.
Strictly supervised euthanasia
Colombian legislation, however, continues to punish up to 9 years in prison. “whoever incites or aids” to end a person’s life “intense suffering” due to bodily injury or illness.
Euthanasia is strictly regulated in Colombia, and less than 200 people have used it since legalization in 1997. In July 2021, the Constitutional Court had extended it to patients who are not terminally ill, but victims “intense physical or psychological suffering resulting from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease”.