Colombian judge rules that mother, 51, suffering from ALS can die by euthanasia even though she is not in the terminal stage of her illness – would make her the first person in the country to do so
- A Medellin judge said Wednesday that Martha Sepúlveda, who suffers from ALS, can die by euthanasia even though she is not in the terminal stage
- The 51-year-old was scheduled to be euthanized October 10 before the Medellin-based Colombian Institute of Pain cancelled the procedure
- The health center notified her by writing October 8, indicating her condition had improved
- The judge said the clinic has 48 hours to agree on a time and date to carry out the procedure as long as Sepúlveda wishes to proceed
- Sepúlveda was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2019 and elected to undergo the procedure August 6
- The practice of euthanasia was legally recognized in Colombia in 1997 when it was decriminalized. The government regulated the practice in 2015
- A July Supreme Court ruling indicated patients with ‘intense physical or mental suffering from bodily injury, or serious and incurable disease’ were eligible
A 51-year-old woman who is battling ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, will be the first person in Colombia allowed to die by euthanasia even though she is not in the terminal stage of her illness after a judge ruled that a local health center had ‘violated (her) fundamental rights to die with dignity.’
Martha Sepúlveda, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2019, was just two and a half days from being injected when a health center in Medellín that agreed to euthanize her abruptly cancelled the procedure in writing, indicating that her condition had improved.
The circuit court judge on Wednesday gave the Colombian Institute of Pain 48 hours to come to an agreement with Sepúlveda and set a ‘day and time that the euthanasia procedure will be carried out as long as she maintains her willingness to perform it.’
She would be the first person in the country to die by euthanasia if it goes through.
Colombia-based lawyer Camilo Burbano told The Associated Press that the health center ‘can go to the Constitutional Court for review, but that review is optional.’
Sepúlveda was diagnosed with the nervous system disease in November 2019 following a doctor’s visit due to a weakness in one of her thumbs.
Martha Sepúlveda has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, since November 2018. On Wednesday, a Medellín circuit court judge ruled a clinic ‘violated (her) fundamental rights to die with dignity’ by cancelling her euthanasia procedure on October 10 and gave the health center 48 hours to set a time and date for the 51-year-old’s new appointment unless she does not want to proceed with it
Martha Sepúlveda with her 22-year-old son Federico Redondo Sepúlveda
By 2020, her condition worsened to the point that she was contemplating dying by euthanasia, a practice legally recognized in the South American nation since 1997 when it was decriminalized. The Colombian government regulated the practice in 2015.
Data released by the Ministry of Health shows that 157 euthanasia procedures have been done, including 26 this year.
According to the Colombian health authorities, a person can be medically classified as ‘in terminal condition’ when their prognosis for life is less than six months.
On July 22, Colombia’s supreme court amended its law and determined that patients with ‘intense physical or mental suffering from bodily injury, or serious and incurable disease’ could also die under euthanasia.
Martha Sepúlveda told Noticias Caracol she chose to end on Sunday, October 10 because it was the same day ‘we go to church’
“A person cannot be forced to continue living, when (he/she) suffers from a serious and incurable disease that causes intense suffering, and has made the autonomous decision to end his existence in the face of conditions that he considers incompatible with his conception of a dignified life,’ the court said.
Against the wishes of some friends and family members, Sepúlveda chose the procedure August 6, claiming: ‘I am calmer since the procedure was authorized: I laugh more, I sleep more calmly’
Her decision rapidly gained attention in the media and in a country where 80 percent of the population is Catholic.
Sepúlveda elected to be received the euthanasia the morning of October 10 – a Sunday – because it was the same day ‘we go to church.’
‘I know that the owner of life is God, meaning that nothing moves without His will,’ the devout Catholic told Noticias Caracol in an interview a week before the procedure. ‘Suddenly 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.’