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Colombian health officials cancel euthanasia of non-terminal patient


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J-P Mauro - published on 10/13/21 - updated on 10/13/21

Martha Liria Sepúlveda Campo would have been the first Colombian patient to be euthanized without a terminal diagnosis.

A panel of health experts has reversed the decision to allow a non-terminally ill Colombian woman with ALS to be euthanized. The procedure was cancelled just days before it was scheduled to take place. It would have been the first instance of euthanization without a terminal diagnosis in Colombia, a majority-Catholic country. 

Martha Liria Sepúlveda Campo has suffered from the degenerative disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, since 2018. According to The Washington Post, once she lost the use of her legs Campo decided to pursue euthanasia. 

In order to be approved for euthanization in Colombia, a patient must first be diagnosed with a terminal illness. It must also be determined that the patient has no more than six-months left to live. A July ruling from Colombia’s court allowed a provision that non-terminal patients experiencing “intense physical or mental suffering” due to accident or incurable illness may apply, but this must be reviewed by a panel of health officials. 

The Post notes that the decision was reversed based on Campo’s improving condition. The panel from the Colombian Institute of Pain, called Incodol, determined that the illness “does not completely affect the functionality of the patient in instrumental activities or daily life.” Furthermore, they suggested that Campo has a “high probability” of living for more than six months. 

The panel cited Campo’s numerous public appearances in which she appeared “smiling and laughing,” as well as sightings of her dining in restaurants. Fredy Quintero, a manager with Incodol, told Colombia’s Caracol News:

“All patients are capable of improving … this is part of the analysis that should be made … to evaluate a patient’s condition.”

Bishop’s plea

National Catholic Register reports, on October 6, Bishop Francisco Ceballos of Riohacha, president of the Commission for the Promotion and Defense of the Life, released a message to Campo imploring her to cease seeking assisted suicide. The bishop appealed to Campo as a Catholic woman

“As a pastor of the Catholic Church, with much respect and much affection, I want to show my sister Martha that she is not alone, that the God of life is always with us. That her affliction can find a transcendent meaning if it becomes a call to the Love that heals, to the Love that renews, to the Love that forgives,”

Bishop Ceballos went on to invite Campo to reflect on her decision. He suggested that she do so in a private place, “away from harassment by the media.” The prelate went on to call the media attention to the case “a kind of propaganda for euthanasia.” He also asked all Catholics to pray for Campo and her family. He reiterated Catholic teaching on end of life care: 

“Death caused by assisted suicide or euthanasia is not compatible with our interpretation of the dignity of human life, whereas the use of palliative care is.”

According to the Inquirer Campo has filed a lawsuit challenging the reversal in the days since the panel refused to euthanize her. There have yet been no developments in this new case. 

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