Authorities cancel assisted suicide for Colombian woman with no terminal illness

euthanasia, assisted suicide

Martha Sepúlveda, who was supposed to become the first person without a terminal illness to be euthanized in Colombia on Sunday, is currently still alive after intervention from authorities.

According to the Washington Post, Sepúlveda was awakened Friday night by her lawyer, informing her that the assisted suicide scheduled for Sunday morning had been cancelled. A medical committee had determined that she no longer qualified, as her health condition had improved. Media coverage of her case evidently played a role, with footage of Sepúlveda laughing and eating out at restaurants widely spread around the world.

The Colombian Institute of Pain, or Incodol, told the Washington Post that her condition “does not completely affect the functionality of the patient in instrumental activities or daily life as the patient and her family had expressed in previous medical records.” Furthermore, they pointed out that Sepúlveda will almost certainly live longer than six months if she doesn’t take her own life.

Her son, Federico Redondo Sepúlveda, slammed the committee for the decision, despite previously saying he wished his mother would choose to live:

We should not tolerate this. It’s not just the rights of Martha Sepúlveda. The rights of many other people that submit to these kinds of procedures, before these kinds of institutions, could also be eventually violated. This circumstance brought my mom back to her previous state of desperation and sadness, and there’s nothing that can change that… We’re open to having this fight for the dignity of my mother. My mom’s fight is the fight of thousands of people.

Previously, he noted that supporting his mother’s assisted suicide would be a sacrifice for him. “I didn’t think it would happen so soon,” he said, adding, “She kept saying the same thing, that if I loved her then I would support her… I saw it as the greatest act of love that I have ever done in my life because (I really) need my mother, I want her with me, almost in any condition, but I know that in her words she no longer lives, she survives.”

The law firm representing Sepúlveda plans to appeal the decision. “They’re obligating her to live a life that she is not willing to continue to live,” Lucas Correa Montoya, one of the lawyers representing Sepúlveda, told the Washington Post. “What has happened in the past few weeks is an example of the long road ahead for death with dignity in Colombia.”

Yet technically, there is nothing preventing Sepúlveda from taking her own life. A ban on assisted suicide means that health care professionals cannot be obligated to participate in someone’s suicide. And her son is correct in that this decision will have an effect that reaches far beyond Sepúlveda herself. If she is allowed to die, then it opens the door to anyone being allowed to be killed due to an individual definition of suffering. It excuses suicide for virtually any reason, as long as the person claims to be suffering.

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