Family of Colombian woman denied right to die call decision 'disrespectful' and 'illegal'

Refusing Martha Sepúlveda a dignified death is a “disrespectful” and “illegal” decision.

That is the opinion of the family and lawyers of Sepúlveda, a 51-year-old Colombian woman who was supposed to die by euthanasia on Sunday morning. Sepúlveda would have been the first patient in Colombia for whom there was no definitive prognosis – he was likely to die in six months or less – and would have been allowed to undergo euthanasia.

Sepúlveda has been in severe pain since 2019 and has lost the ability to walk unaided, although death can take years, due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects the mobility of the body and is considered fatal .

On Saturday afternoon, the day before the trial, a committee of the Colombian Pain Institute (Incodol) issued a statement that after re-examination they would cancel the euthanasia scheduled for Sunday morning, stating that Sepúlveda’s case “does not meet the termination criteria. ”

The family members of Sepúlveda took up the decision.

“This decision is disrespectful and unpresentable,” Sepúveda’s son Federico Redondo told reporters on Sunday. “They did everything in secret and did not announce their meeting – the attending doctor did not inform us.”

Redondo said his mother was never evaluated by a medical committee before the decision was reversed, and the decision was made without considering the patient.

An “illegal decision,” say lawyers

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Laboratory (DescLab), the legal group representing Sepúlveda, opposed the lifting of the centers.

“It is said that Martha does not have an incurable disease. It is an illegal and arbitrary decision, ”said the lawyers. “The struggle (by Sepúlveda) for control continues.”

“By canceling the trial and demanding a final diagnosis,” said the group, “IPS Indocol violated Martha’s fundamental right to a dignified death, violated her right to a dignified life.”

According to her lawyers, the woman meets the legal requirements to apply for euthanasia: she suffers from a serious and incurable disease, claims to be suffering and has expressly stated that she wants to die.

Sepúlveda said in previous interviews that she was “happy” and “calm” about ending her life.

“God does not want to see me suffer,” said Sepúlveda, arguing that “the best thing that can happen to me is to rest because of your deteriorating condition.”

Colombia was the first country in Latin America to decriminalize euthanasia in 1997, and it is one of the few in the world where the process is legal. But until this year it was only allowed in cases where the prognosis is incurable – a life expectancy of six months or less.

On July 22nd, the Colombian Constitutional Court extended the law and allowed the procedure “if the patient suffers severe physical or mental ailments”.

An earlier version of this story was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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