After Colombia, Ecuador decriminalizes euthanasia

Ecuador on Wednesday became the second Latin American country, after Colombia, to decriminalize euthanasia, with the Constitutional Court ruling that a doctor who reduces the suffering of a patient suffering from an incurable illness cannot be prosecuted

After Colombia, Ecuador decriminalizes euthanasia

Ecuador on Wednesday became the second Latin American country, after Colombia, to decriminalize euthanasia, with the Constitutional Court ruling that a doctor who reduces the suffering of a patient suffering from an incurable illness cannot be prosecuted. for homicide.

The procedure was opened in August by Paola Roldan, a 43-year-old woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Charcot disease, a rare and painful neurodegenerative condition.

This patient, who lives permanently on oxygen and prostrate in her bed, asked the court to rule that article 144 of the Ecuadorian penal code, which punishes simple homicide with ten to thirteen years in prison, does not apply in matters of euthanasia, as has been the practice until now.

The Constitutional Court agreed with him, stating that “every human being can make free and informed decisions when their personal development is affected”, including “the possibility of putting an end to intense suffering caused by serious and irreversible bodily harm or by a serious and incurable illness.”

Consequently, the penalties provided for for homicide “cannot apply to a doctor who carries out an active euthanasia process in such a way as to preserve the patient's rights to a dignified life and the free development of his personality,” the court ruled.

She asked the Ministry of Health to present within six months a bill governing euthanasia, which must be adopted by Parliament within a year.

All of these decisions were adopted by seven votes in favor and two votes against.

A bill on euthanasia presented soon in France

“The fight for human rights is never a well-trodden path. I thank everyone because today Ecuador is a more welcoming, freer and more dignified country,” responded Paola Roldan during a virtual press conference, declaring herself “very moved and relieved.”

One of his lawyers, Farith Simon, welcomed during a press conference a “historic” decision in a traditionally conservative and predominantly Catholic country, and recalled that the judgment of the Constitutional Court is of “immediate application”. Another lawyer, Ramiro Avila, clarified that Ms. Roldan will be able to obtain death “when she considers it appropriate.”

Colombia, for its part, decriminalized euthanasia in 1997.

In Canada, medical assistance in dying has been available since 2016 for consenting and responsible adults suffering from a serious, incurable and irreversible illness. Nearly 45,000 Canadians used it between 2016 and 2022, representing 4.1% of deaths, according to official statistics.

In the United States, assisted suicide is permitted in some states, but euthanasia remains illegal nationwide.

In Europe, the Netherlands and Belgium were the first two European countries to authorize euthanasia, that is to say death caused by a caregiver at the request of a patient. In 2009, Luxembourg decriminalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, i.e. when the patient himself takes a prescribed product to cause death.

Switzerland also authorizes assisted suicide, like Spain, Austria and Italy for certain cases.

In France, a 2016 law allows caregivers to put patients suffering from a “serious and incurable condition” under irreversible sedation. But it does not go so far as to authorize active euthanasia. A bill “on the French end-of-life model”, a promise from the president, Emmanuel Macron, should be “presented in February”.

In Germany, passive euthanasia (i.e. the renunciation of the implementation of life-sustaining measures or the interruption thereof) is tolerated if the patient has requested it. In February 2020, the Constitutional Court also censored a 2015 law prohibiting assisted suicide by doctors or associations.

In the United Kingdom, since 2002, interruption of care in certain cases has been authorized. However, assisted suicide remains punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. But new guidelines issued in 2010 urge leniency when the act is done out of “compassion.”