First Colombian With Nonterminal Illness Legally Dies via Euthanasia

In the face of opposition from doctors, clinics, and courts, Victor Escobar became the first Colombian to die via euthanasia on Friday January 7, 2022.

Victor Escobar, aged 60, became the first Colombian with a nonterminal illness to die by legally regulated euthanasia on Friday January 7, 2022. Escobar’s lawyer Luis Giraldo confirmed his passing.1

“We reached the goal for patients like me, who aren’t terminal but degenerative, to win this battle, a battle that opens the doors for the other patients who come after me and who right now want a dignified death,” said Escobar in a video message.

Escobar had been ill since 2008, when he suffered 2 strokes. Later, he developed end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and several other conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, severe arthrosis, and costochondral junction syndrome.2

He fought for 2 years for his right to euthanasia in the face of opposition from doctors, clinics, and courts, where he was turned down because his illnesses were not yet terminal.

Earlier this week, he told the Associated Press, “I feel an immense tranquility. I don't feel fear of what is to come.”

The procedure took place in a clinic in the city of Cali.

“I’m not saying goodbye, just ‘see you later,’” Escobar said.

The last footage of him alive shows him smiling and surrounded by family.

On Saturday January 8, 2022, Martha Sepulveda, a second Colombian with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was euthanized. According to Colombian legal rights advocacy group DescLAB, Sepulveda underwent the procedure in the city of Medellin at midday.3

Sepulveda, aged 51, was originally due to be euthanized on October 10, 2021, before the procedure was halted last minute. The health center did not provide a reason for the cancellation.

In July 2021, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued a ruling expanding access to euthanasia to patients who “suffer intense physical or mental suffering, stemming from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease.” The ruling stated: “A person cannot be forced to continue living, when he 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.”

Last year, Canada moved forward with a law enabling patients with psychiatric disorders to apply for medical aid in dying (MAID).4 The amended 2016 law became effective as of March 17, 2021.5

The issue of MAID and euthanasia continues to spark conversation and debate. Psychiatrists and ethicists have differing views on the topic, which generally center around the principles of patient autonomy and “do no harm.”6-9

References

1. Reuters. First Colombian with non-terminal illness dies legally by euthanasia. NBC News. January 9, 2022. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/man-dies-euthanasia-colombia-first-non-terminal-illness-rcna11506

2. First Colombian with non-terminal illness dies legally by euthanasia. News release. Millennium Post. January 9, 2022. Accessed January 10, 2022. http://www.millenniumpost.in/big-stories/first-colombian-with-non-terminal-illness-dies-legally-by-euthanasia-464544?infinitescroll=1

3. Subizar P. This woman wanted to die. Why was her euthanasia canceled? NBC News. October 19, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/woman-wanted-die-was-euthanasia-canceled-rcna3231

4. Komrad MS. First, do no harm: new Canadian law allows for assisted suicide for patients with psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric Times. 2021;(38)6.

5. Medical assistance in dying. Government of Canada. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/medical-assistance-dying.html

6. Pies RW, Geppert CMA. Physician-assisted suicide and the autonomy myth. October 27, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/physician-assisted-suicide-and-the-autonomy-myth

7. Pies RW. Is “death with dignity” really possible? November 30, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/is-death-with-dignity-really-possible-

8. Kious BM, Battin M, Bostwick JM et al. Let’s ask the right questions about medical aid in dying. August 11, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/right-questions-medical-aid-dying

9. Pagano J. Medical aid in dying allows for a focus on living. January 7, 2022. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/medical-aid-in-dying-allows-for-a-focus-on-living