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Woman set to become first person without terminal illness euthanized in Colombia

UPDATE, 10/11/21: Colombian authorities stepped in and cancelled Ms. Sepulveda’s scheduled assisted suicide after media coverage showed that she is clearly not suffering and is enjoying life. She and her attorneys plan to appeal this decision.

10/9/21: A 51-year-old woman in Colombia is set to be euthanized, even though she is not dying. Martha Sepulveda has garnered international headlines for claiming to be a devout Catholic, yet opting for assisted suicide after receiving a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Sepulveda said she was diagnosed in 2018 after losing sensation in her hand. Once she was unable to control the muscles in her legs, her thoughts turned to suicide. “What happens once I can no longer get into bed or use the bathroom without help?” she said she would ask her son. “How far am I going to go?”

According to Colombia’s Caracol News, Sepulveda is scheduled to die on October 10. It will make her the first person in Colombia to be euthanized, despite having no terminal illness. And further, she argued that her plan is one that is in line with her Catholic beliefs.

“If it is from the spiritual plane, I am totally calm,” she said. “I am a Catholic person, I consider myself a very believer in God, but, I repeat, God does not want to see me suffer and I believe that no one. No parent wants to see their children suffer.”

She further explained that she chose to die on a Sunday because her family always attends Mass on Sundays, and that God is rewarding her choice to die. “I know that the owner of life is God, yes, that is, nothing moves without His will,” she said. “For many people I am very wrong, but I think He is allowing this; He is rewarding me in a certain way because I am not going to be bedridden.”

Federico Redondo Sepúlveda, her only son, supports her decision, but has made it clear that he wishes she would not kill herself. “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.” He will be the only person in the room with her when she dies. And, the Daily Mail reported, he’s devoted himself to doing what he can to make her happy.

READ: What is a ‘terminal illness’, and why do some claim we need assisted suicide for it?

“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,” he said. “Now I am focused on making her happy, on making her laugh, on picking up a bit and making her stay on Earth, whatever she has left, be a little more enjoyable.”

The Colombian Episcopal Conference, meanwhile, has asked Colombia’s Catholic population to pray that she changes her mind. “Death cannot be the therapeutic answer to pain and suffering in any case,” Riohacha Bishop Francisco Antonio Ceballos said in a statement. “Martha, I invite you to calmly reflect on your decision. Hopefully, if circumstances allow it, away from the harassment of the media, who have not hesitated to take his pain and that of her family to make a kind of propaganda of euthanasia in a country deeply marked by violence.”

This case shows not only the dangerous precedent that legalizing euthanasia sets, but the ableism inherent in it as well. Though Sepulveda speaks of suffering as an excuse, the notion of “suffering” is entirely subjective — and if it becomes acceptable to die due to what one person defines as suffering, then it excuses suicide for virtually any reason.

And, as Sepulveda’s case shows, suicide is something people accept if it’s under supposedly “good” conditions. If a person is young and able-bodied, then suicide is something to be avoided at all costs, and interventions are put in place to convince the person that their life is still worth living. If, however, the person is elderly, disabled, or ill, then suddenly, their suicide isn’t just acceptable, but it’s something that should be assisted and accommodated. It’s an insidious example of just how dangerous and pervasive the culture of death truly is.

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