International

Colombia legislature fails to legalize assisted suicide, leaving it completely unregulated

euthanasia, assisted suicide, hospice

A bill that would expressly legalize assisted suicide in Colombia has failed to pass, leaving the country with assisted suicide decriminalized, yet largely unregulated and without penalties.

In 1997, Colombia first approved euthanasia after the Supreme Court ruled that the penalties for doctors euthanizing patients should be removed, but the ruling didn’t take effect until 2015 when guidelines were finally approved by the Colombian Congress. Then, in 2018, euthanasia was disturbingly approved for children as well.

In the 1997 Supreme Court decision, it was ruled that “the State cannot oppose the decision of an individual who does not wish to continue living and who requests help to die when suffering from a terminal illness that causes unbearable pain, incompatible with his idea of dignity.” The court then ordered the Colombian legislature to pass a law formally legalizing euthanasia, but in the 24 years since then, no bill has been passed.

The latest effort was introduced by Juan Fernando Reyes Kuri, but it failed by three votes. “Very regrettable that by three votes, again, our project that sought to regulate the right to die with dignity in Colombia, through euthanasia, has collapsed,” Kuri said, according to El Espectador. “Congress definitely does not want to advance these discussions. It is not about defending or criticizing those who are for or against, it is about a secular state, such as the Colombian, respectful of rights and freedoms, each one can decide on the end of their life, according to their own own convictions and beliefs. The initiative was not intended to force everyone to euthanize themselves when they have a terminal illness, it simply allows it to those who so decide.”

READ: Gang raped at 14, she chose life for her son despite doctor and family coercion

Other legislators, however, didn’t appreciate being ordered by the court to pass a bill.

Nidia Marcela Osorio specifically criticized the Supreme Court for overstepping boundaries and eliminating the separation of powers. “Euthanasia is applied by a ruling of the Court, which, however respectable it may be, in that sense, long ago it exceeded the limit of its competition,” she said. “What claim does Congress make to the Court? None. They have the absolute truth and are never wrong, that is, we have to accept that we have a Court that is above everything and that has neither God nor law and that is why the Court obliges Congress to legislate in this regard… [a]nd Congress as subjects we proceed to regulate. Today is euthanasia, later it will be other issues and it is simply going to force Congress to legislate, we are wrong. There is no separation of powers in the country.”

With this argument, Representative Harry González disagreed, saying it would send a “bad message” if rulings from the court could not be complied with.

Colombia remains a heavily Catholic country, but some believe that shouldn’t make a difference. Though many oppose euthanasia due to religious or ethical beliefs, Kuri said that shouldn’t matter. “[W]e cannot allow them to continue imposing their beliefs on everyone,” he said, according to BioEdge. Senator Armando Benedetti agreed, saying, “Why should those who do not believe in God be limited in their desire to stop living in the face of so much suffering?” But the intrinsic value of each human life exists, whether or not individuals believe in God. Giving a nod of approval to suicide never leads to good in a society.

The situation in Colombia is similar to that of Montana, where assisted suicide is not expressly prohibited, but also has no statute specifically making it legal.

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