a consoling hand on a hospitalized patient

This Colombian woman wants to die by euthanasia. She’s not terminally ill.

Human euthanasia is a highly debated topic. Some people are for it, saying that it provides humans with the right to die in dignity and peace. Others are against it, saying that it goes against God’s will. This woman in Colombia was going to be the first person to receive euthanasia despite not fitting the definition of being terminally ill. The clinic that agreed to do it, however, retracted its offer at the last minute. (1)

Woman Denied Euthanasia Because She Is Not Considered Terminal

Colombia has been one of the most progressive countries in the world of human euthanasia. Despite the strong roman catholic roots of the country, they decriminalized euthanasia for the terminally ill in 1997. Doctors typically define terminally ill as having less than six months to live.

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51-year-old Martha Sepúlveda Campo was supposed to die via euthanasia on Sunday, October 3. The day before her appointment, however, the committee from the Instituto Colombiano del Dolor, where she was to be euthanized, went back on their decision.

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Their reasoning is that she does not fit the criteria to be euthanized. Martha has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Doctors diagnosed her with a fatal degenerative disease in 2019. There is no cure, however, how long someone has it before dying varies from patient to patient. Some die after only a few months, others it can take years. 

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Read: Heartbreaking image shows a horse comforting dying cancer patient and her masked little boy

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What Is ALS?

ALS is a neurological disease that affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements. These are the muscles that control chewing, talking, walking, and moving our bodies. It is a progressive disease, meaning that symptoms start out light and become worse over time. Eventually, patients lose their ability to move, speak, eat, and even breathe. Most patients die of respiratory failure within three to five years of diagnosis, though some will live for up to 10 years. (2)

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Why Martha Wants Euthanasia

Three years after her diagnosis, Martha has already lost her ability to walk unassisted. She knows that the road ahead will only get worse. She will be in pain, she won’t be able to move, and her family will have to watch as she suffers. All she wants is to be able to leave this Earth with some joy and dignity, rather than waiting until her body completely falls apart.

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“In the state that I have it, the best thing that can happen to me is to rest,” she said.

On July 22, Colombia expanded their right to die act to include when “the patient suffers intense physical or mental suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease,”.

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Martha applied for a permit four days later, and they granted her request on August 6. Since her procedure was authorized, she said she felt much calmer. She laughed more and slept better knowing that she wouldn’t have to continue to live as her suffering worsened. 

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Familial Support

Her 11 siblings and her son all supported her decision. Of course, they don’t want to live without their sister or their mother. They understand, however, how much harder and more painful life will become for her. They would rather see her be able to live out her final days with joy than suffer for years just waiting and wishing for death to come.

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“I 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,” her son said.

Martha and her family have received quite a lot of backlash leading up to what was supposed to be her euthanasia date from the Catholic Church of Colombia. The Roman Catholic Church still considers this a very serious offense. They say it is disrespectful to their creator and have called for a push on taking care of the sick, rather than allowing euthanasia.

As can be expected, Martha is quite disappointed with the clinic’s decision to retract her authorization. It is currently not clear whether or not the family will decide to take action against this or not. To her critics who question why she is not choosing to fight her disease, she says she has already fought the battle long enough. Now, she is fighting a different battle: For her right to a dignified death.

“I’ll be a coward, but I don’t want to suffer anymore,” she said. “To struggle? I fight to rest.”

Keep Reading: A Doctor Built a Machine That Helps People Die

Sources:

  1. “Clinic that agreed to perform Colombian woman’s euthanasia reverses decision” NBC News. Oct. 10, 2021.
  2. “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Fact Sheet” NIH. Published June 2013. Updated May 2021.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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