HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, August 15, 2005

Euthanasia Legal In Colombia

According to the AP, Colombia is the only country in Latin America where the practice of active euthanasia is legal (see also MSNBC).   In 1997, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 that an individual may choose to end his life and that doctors can't be prosecuted for their role in helping.  The majority opinion said that "no person can be held criminally responsible for taking the life of a terminally ill patient who has given clear authorization to do so."  The court defined a "terminally ill" person as someone with diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and kidney or liver failure if they are terminal and the cause of extreme suffering.  However, the ruling specifically refused to authorize euthanasia for patients with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Even though the court urged the Colombian Congress to codify and regulate the practice to prevent abuses, Congress has not taken up the issue.  Colombia is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and lawmakers have been reluctant to tackle such a contentious issue.  However, the judge who wrote the majority opinion is now a senator and has submitted a bill to Congress to regulate the practice of euthanasia and establish clear guidelines.   The guidelines proposed are similar to those in the Netherlands and Belgium, where doctors must seek second opinions, give patients rigorous mental health tests, and have cases reviewed by government commissions.   Currently, the patient and his doctor are the sole decision makers, and there is no legal obligation to report it to authorities. 

One Colombian doctor who has practiced euthanasia comments that "it's never easy, but I do it out of respect and affection for my patients." 

Thanks to Lindley Bain for help with this post.  [tm]

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