Martha Sepúlveda, 51, has finally fulfilled her wish.
The devout Catholic died on Saturday morning in a clinic in Medellín, Colombia, surrounded by her family by euthanasia.
But it has come a long way for the woman who made the headlines when she asked to be allowed to die by euthanasia without an immediate final prognosis – those expected to live six months or less – arguing that she does not want to wait for more pain and have difficulties with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (AS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable and degenerative disease.
“God does not want to see me suffer,” said Sepúlveda in a television interview with the Colombian network Caracol, which went viral last fall.
Sepúlveda immediately resisted the court, and the judges agreed. “Forcing a person to prolong their existence indefinitely if they do not want to and suffer deep tribulations amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment,” the judge said in his judgment.
Because of this decision, Martha was able to choose a new date and time for her dignified death and decided to do so on Saturday morning, January 8th.
“Martha is grateful to all the people who have accompanied and supported her, who prayed for her and spoke words of love and compassion during these difficult months,” said her lawyers from the Laboratory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in a statement.
Sepúlveda made history in her country, but also in the region, by defending the right to a dignified death. She had strong opposition from the Catholic Church. Her fall has crossed boundaries because she spoke openly about her desire to die and the calm she had as an ardent Catholic.
Sepúlveda’s attorneys hope her case will set a precedent. “Anyone who wants to exercise and guarantee their right to a dignified death should not be afraid to make it public. Those who exercise their rights should never hide, “DescLAB’s Lucas Correa Montoya told Noticias Telemundo.
On Friday, the day before the Sepúlveda euthanasia, Colombia had already taken a big step forward in terms of the right to die with dignity. In a clinic in Cali Víctor Escobar, a 60 year old Colombian van who had suffered from various health problems for 30 years was put to sleep. It was the first procedure of its kind in this country and in Latin America on a non-incurable patient.
A smile that echoed across many screens
Before her planned euthanasia was abruptly canceled last October, Sepúlveda was delighted to receive the news that she was allowed to undergo the procedure and was shown celebrating with her son in front of the television cameras with a few beers in hand. “The best that can happen is to rest,” she said at the time.
Sepúlveda suffered severe pain from her terminal illness, which gradually destroyed motor neurons, and could no longer walk or practice personal hygiene without help. Some ALS patients live months or decades, but most live two to five years after their diagnosis.
Sepúlveda did not want to wait for this progress and suffering and spoke of a God as a “father who does not want to see his children suffer”. The Catholic Church invited them to reflect, and many questioned them publicly in a country where much of the population are practicing Catholics.
Her family, who emphasized each individual’s right to choose and have an independent opinion, supported her struggle.
Spark a legal, medical debate
Colombia decriminalized euthanasia in 1997 and became a world leader in the right to die with dignity, but it took decades for health officials to put in place protocols to regulate the process for people with an incurable disease.
In July last year, the Constitutional Court expanded the law even further by abolishing the requirement of an incurable disease (diagnosis of six months or less) as it “can impose the continuation of life under conditions which the person considers unworthy or degrading looks at “. ” said the court, claims that individuals have a right to autonomy.
That was the opportunity Martha had been waiting for. Four days after the verdict, she applied for euthanasia, which was granted on August 6 and scheduled for October, before the clinic overturned the trial.
Martha’s denial of euthanasia sparked an intense legal and medical debate about her case and the right to die in a seemingly complex web of judicial and legal decisions in Colombia. Who makes the decision? How is it determined that a person is seriously ill?
It was a debate across borders: in countries like Chile, Uruguay and Argentina there are already draft laws that want to decriminalize euthanasia.
The Medellín District Twentieth Civil Court settled the discussion by responding to the appeal of the woman’s lawyers. “The judge has recognized that it is up to each individual to judge and define what kind of suffering he considers unworthy and incompatible with his idea of dignity,” said Lucas Correa Montoya, lawyer for Sepúlveda.
“It is not up to doctors, public opinion or the church to decide who suffers more or less,” he said.
“The confirmation of my rights at this very complex moment in my life fills me with joy and reaffirms my confidence in the judiciary,” said Sepúlveda in a letter published after the court ruling.
Last weekend, their protracted battle ended on their own terms.