March 1, 2024

Colombia to debate euthanasia

 The debate over euthanasia has focused almost exclusively on Europe and North America. But in Colombia euthanasia has been legal since 1997 after the nation’s highest court ruled 6-3 that people can end their lives when they want to and that doctors cannot be prosecuted for assisting them. However, there is still some ambiguity about the legal status of assisted suicide, with its opponents arguing that it is legal in theory but not in practice, due to the pecularities of the Colombian legislative system. Now the judge who wrote the majority decision wants a debate in the Colombian Congress over his bill to regulate the practice.

Carlos Gaviria is now a senator and a possible left-wing presidential candidate. He says that it is important to establish clear guidelines modelled on laws in the Netherlands and Belgium. At the moment, no one knows how many patients have been killed by doctors as no records are kept, although one doctor, Gustavo Alfonso Quintana, reports that he has euthanased 15 patients. According to Associated Press, he always asks himself first whether "If I were in his position, would I want to end my life? If I find the answer to be Yes, then I proceed to induce death. It’s never easy, but I do it out of respect and affection for my patients."

Overturning the court’s ruling would require a constitutional change, so Congress can only wrap red tape around a practice which has already been legalised. At the moment, doctors are not even required to report whether they have helped someone to die. Although the Catholic Church in this 90% Catholic country strongly opposes euthanasia, polls suggest that voters are evenly divided.