Colombia Becomes 1st Latin American Country To Allow Assisted Suicide; Should Others Legalise It Too?

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Colombia Becomes 1st Latin American Country To Allow Assisted Suicide; Should Others Legalise It Too?

The country's highest court ruling stated that assisted suicide would be allowed only for patients dealing with "intense physical or mental suffering arising from physical injury or severe and incurable illness."

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Colombia became the first Latin American country on May 12 to authorise assisted medical suicide for patients under a doctor's supervision. The country's constitutional court ruled that a doctor can help a severely ill patient end their own life by consuming a lethal drug, without risking going to jail.

Colombia already allows euthanasia, a procedure where a doctor administers a life-ending drug to a patient, NDTV reported.

"The doctor who helps someone with serious illness or intense suffering and who freely decides to take their own life, acts within the constitutional framework," read the court ruling passed by six votes to three. Colombia decriminalised euthanasia in 1997, and in July last year, a high court expanded this "right to dignified death" to those persons not suffering from a serious illness.

According to the official data, fewer than 200 people have opted for euthanasia in Colombia since 1997. It is the first and only Latin American country to have taken this move and one of a few in the world, and it did so despite mainly being Roman Catholic. The church strictly opposes both euthanasias and assisted suicide.

'Intense' Suffering

As per the Right to Die with Dignity foundation (DMD), the main difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide "is basically who administers the drug."

"In euthanasia, health personnel administers the medicine that causes a person to die, whereas in assisted suicide, it is the patient who self-administers the drug that another person has provided," it explained.

Despite decriminalising euthanasia, a doctor still risked jail time of 12 to 36 months for assisting a person end their own life.

The country's highest court ruling stated that assisted suicide would be allowed only for patients dealing with "intense physical or mental suffering arising from physical injury or severe and incurable illness."

A doctor acting outside of this framework could still land up in jail for nearly nine years.

As per the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, "aid in dying" is allowed in some form or another in the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, some states in Australia and a few in the United States.

In April 2002, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide.

It imposed a strict set of conditions, where patients must be suffering from unbearable pain, their illness must be incurable, and the patient must make the demand in "full consciousness". Elsewhere in Latin America, Chile's lower house of Parliament approved a bill in 2021 that would allow euthanasia for adults, which still requires Senate's approval.

In April 2021, a court in Peru had ordered the government to grant the wishes of a polio-stricken female to be allowed to die, a rare allowance for euthanasia in the country. Euthanasia and assisted suicide have been controversial and emotive topics since they were introduced.

According to a report published in Medical News Today, one argument against euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is the Hippocratic Oath, dating back around 2,500 years. All doctors take this oath.

Among other things, the original oath included the following words:

"I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor suggest this effect."

However, there are variations of the modern oath. "If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life, this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my frailty," one states.

As the world has changed a lot since the time of Hippocrates, some opine that the original oath is outdated. In some nations, an updated version is used, while doctors still adhere to the original in others.

Various arguments are mainly cited for and against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Arguments For

Freedom of choice: Advocates state that the patient should be able to make their own choice.

Quality of life: Only the patient knows how they feel, and how the physical and emotional pain of sickness and prolonged death affects their quality of life.

Dignity: Every person should be able to die with dignity.

Witnesses: Many people who witness the slow death of others believe that assisted dying should be allowed.

Resources: It makes more sense to channel the resources of highly-skilled staff, hospital beds, equipment and medications towards life-saving treatments for those patients who want to live, rather than those who do not.

Humane: It is more humane to let an individual with intractable suffering choose to end that pain.

Loved ones: It can help shorten the sadness and suffering of loved ones.

We already do it: If a beloved pet has intractable pain, it is considered as an act of generosity to put it to sleep. Then why should this kindness be denied to humans?

Arguments Against

The doctor's role: Medicos may be unwilling to compromise their professional roles, especially in the light of the Hippocratic Oath.

Moral and religious arguments: Several faiths see euthanasia and assisted suicide as a form of murder and morally unacceptable. Suicide, too, is "illegal" in some religions. Purely, there is an argument that they will weaken society's respect for the sanctity of life.

Patient competence: Euthanasia is only voluntary if the person is mentally competent, with a sound understanding of available options and the ability to express their wish to end their own life.

Guilt: Patients may sometimes feel they are a burden on resources and are psychologically pressured into consenting. They may think that their family's financial, emotional, and mental burden is too great. Even if the state provides the costs of treatment, there is a risk that hospital staff may have an economic incentive to encourage consent on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Mental illness: A patient with depression is more likely Trusted Source to ask for assisted suicide, which can complicate the decision.

Slippery slope: There is a risk that physician-assisted suicide will start with terminally ill patients who wish to die due to intractable suffering, but then start to include other individuals.

Possible recovery: Occasionally, an individual recovers against all the odds. Sometimes, the diagnosis might be wrong.

Palliative care: Good palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary.

Regulation: Euthanasia cannot be adequately regulated.

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Writer : Tashafi Nazir
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Editor : Snehadri Sarkar
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