BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s constitutional court backed medically assisted suicide in a decision late on Wednesday, which advocates said makes it the first Latin American country to back death by suicide for those suffering serious or incurable illnesses.
Euthanasia – when a patient chooses to die in a procedure where medical staff are present – has been legal in Colombia since 1997. In January this year it was used for the first time by a person suffering a non-terminal illness.
The decision on assisted suicide – when a person takes steps to end their own life after consulting a doctor – came after Colombian right-to-die group DescLAB sued, arguing that criminalizing those who assist others with suicide violates people’s right to a dignified death and access to medical help.
The ruling – backed by six of nine judges – requires that patients meet the standards already in place for euthanasia: they must be diagnosed with an injury or serious or incurable disease which causes intense physical or mental pain they find incompatible with living a dignified life.
Patients must also express their wish to complete suicide and get assistance from a doctor.
“It’s a new mechanism which, along with euthanasia, allows us to access a free, safe and accompanied medically assisted death,” DescLAB research director Lucas Correa said in a video.
“It’s a decisive step for our country to consolidate its position as one of the most advanced in the world when it comes to the right to die with dignity,” Correa added.
People who encourage or assist someone to carry out suicide in order to end suffering from illness can currently be sentenced to between 16 and 36 months in prison in Colombia.
Some 127 investigations into that crime have been conducted since 2010 and August last year, DescLAB said.
Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany and some states in the United States also allow medically assisted suicide.
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