Martha Sepúlveda Campo, a 51-year-old Colombian, smiles into the television camera, jokes with her son and drinks a beer to celebrate: This Sunday, October 10th, she will die by euthanasia.
“From the spiritual level I am totally calm,” says Sepúlveda, who describes herself as “Catholic, very religious” an interview with the Colombian television station Noticias Caracol.
Sepúlveda will be the first patient with a non-incurable disease to be euthanized in Colombia, a country recognized both in Latin America and around the world as a pioneer in the right to a dignified death.
“God does not want to see me suffer, and I believe that no one, no parents, see their children suffer,” said Sepúlveda, who has been suffering from a degenerative disease since 2019.
Over time, the symptoms have worsened so that she can no longer walk without help. They are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a nervous system disorder that affects the body’s mobility.
“In the state that I have it, the best thing that can happen to me is to rest,” she said.
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 for incurable diseases.
On July 22nd, the Colombian Constitutional Court extended the law and allowed the procedure “provided the patient is suffering from severe physical or psychological ailments from a physical injury or from a serious and incurable illness”. the EFE agency.
Four days later, Sepúlveda asked for a permit, which was granted on August 6th.
“I’ve been calmer since the trial was approved. I laugh more, I sleep more easily, ”says the woman, who is supported by a large part of her family.
Her 11 siblings are okay with the procedure, and her son was by her side in her final days. “I need my mother, I want her with me, in almost every condition, but I know that, according to her words, she is no longer alive, she survives,” said Federico Redondo Sepúlveda to Noticias Caracol.
However, not everyone in the family agrees, mostly for religious reasons. “The subject was more difficult with my mother,” said Sepúlveda, “but I think she basically understands it too.”
Their decision is facing severe criticism in a country with a large majority of Roman Catholic believers and where the church still describes euthanasia as a “serious offense”.
This is exactly what the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia stated in a statement following the judgment of the court in July. Monsignor Francisco Antonio Ceballos Escobar said it was “a murderous murder that seriously runs counter to the dignity of the human person and the divine respect of their Creator” and called for the sick to be cared for rather than facilitated by the process. Local news agencies reported.
Sepúlveda is aware of this and has discussed it with her pastors. “I know that God is the owner of life, yes. Nothing moves without his will, she said.
But she also said that she thinks that God “allows this”.
Camila Jaramillo Salazar, a family lawyer, said Sepúlveda’s decision had received a lot of support from Colombians despite criticism from the Catholic Church.
Actually, more than 72 percent of respondents in Invamer’s latest Colombia Opina poll said they consent to euthanasia, with a higher percentage in the country’s largest cities.
“Perhaps Colombia can be a leader in making progress in dying with dignity,” said lawyer Noticias Caracol.
Euthanasia was decriminalized in 1997 in terminal illness when the patient was in severe pain, applied for voluntarily and carried out by a doctor. But it wasn’t until April 20, 2015 that the government issued an ordinance that allows this.
Since then, only 157 interventions have been carried out in the country, according to the Ministry of Health. Out of five requests for euthanasia, two are approved, says DescLAB, Laboratory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The first euthanasia patient in the country was Ovidio González Correa, a 79-year-old man with a face deformed by a tumor who became the symbol of the struggle for justice.
Now it is Sepúlveda’s turn to write history as the first person without an incurable disease to experience a worthy death.
“Since we always go to church on Sundays, for mass, I chose that day,” she said.
When asked about those who think she should have struggled to live instead of asking for euthanasia, Sepúlveda said she went through a struggle too.
“I’ll be a coward, but I don’t want to suffer anymore,” she said. “Struggling? I’m struggling to keep calm.”