Martha Sepúlveda Campo, a 51 -year -old Colombian, smiles at the television camera as she jokes with her son and drinks beer to celebrate what euthanasia can be like.
Sepúlveda is the first patient without immediate terminal prognosis – those expected to live six months or less – to receive euthanasia in Colombia, a country considered a pioneer in the right to a dignified death, both in Latin America and around the world.
But on Saturday, a committee from the center where he planned to undergo euthanasia on Sunday, the Instituto Colombiano del Dolor, reversed the decision, saying he did not meet the requirement for terminal status.
It is unclear if his family will act to force the procedure to continue.
Sepúlveda has had a degenerative disease since 2019. Over time, symptoms worsened, to the point that she could no longer walk without assistance. His diagnosis was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease of the nervous system that affects body movements and is considered fatal, although death can come months or years later.
“In the state I have it, the best thing that can happen to me is to relax,” Sepúlveda told an interview with the Colombian television network Noticias Caracol.
Colombia was the first country in Latin America to decriminalize euthanasia, in 1997, and it is one of the few in the world where the procedure is legal. But until this year, it was only allowed in cases of terminal illness.
On July 22, the Colombian Constitutional Court extended the right, allowing the procedure “on the condition that the patient suffers severe physical or mental suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness,” according to the EFE agency.
Four days later, Sepúlveda requested a permit, which was granted on August 6.
“I’m calmer because the procedure is permitted,” he said before reversing Saturday. “The more I laugh, the calmer I sleep.”
Her 11 siblings supported her decision, and her son was by her side as she considered her last day. “I need my mother, I want her with me, almost in any situation, but I know already in her words that she no longer lives, she lives,” Federico Redondo Sepúlveda told Noticias Caracol.
However, not all families supported the plan, mainly for religious reasons. “To my mother the issue became more difficult,” Sepúlveda said, “but I think she knows it too.”
His decision has faced fierce critics, in a country with a majority of Roman Catholic believers and where the church still calls euthanasia a “serious offense.”
This is precisely what the Episcopal Conference of Colombia indicated in a statement released after the court’s decision in July. Monsignor Francisco Antonio Ceballos Escobar said it was a “murder seriously contrary to human dignity and the divine respect of its creator,” and called for caring for the sick rather than overseeing the procedure, reported local news outlets.
Sepúlveda knew this and discussed it with his pastors. “I know the owner of life is God, yes. Nothing moves without his will,” she said.
But he also said he thinks God thinks “allows it.”
Camila Jaramillo Salazar, an attorney for the family, said Sepúlveda’s decision has garnered a lot of support from Colombians, despite criticism from the Catholic church.
In fact, more than 72 percent of those surveyed by Invomer’s latest Colombia Opina poll said they agree with euthanasia, with a higher percentage in the country’s largest city.
“Perhaps Colombia could be a leading country in terms of dignified death advances,” the lawyer told Noticias Caracol.
Euthanasia was decriminalized in 1997 in the case of terminal illness, when the patient suffered a lot of pain, it was requested voluntarily and performed by a doctor. But the government did not issue a regulation that would allow this until April 20, 2015.
Since then, only 157 procedures have been performed in the country, according to data from the Ministry of Health. For every five requests for euthanasia, two are allowed, says DescLAB, Laboratory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The first euthanasia patient in the country was Ovidio González Correa, a 79 -year -old man with a face deformed by a lump which became a symbol of the battle for the right.
When asked about those who thought he should fight to survive rather than seek death help, Sepúlveda said he had already gone through a battle.
“I’m going to be a coward, but I don’t want to suffer anymore,” he said. “In the struggle? I fought to rest.”