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NOTES ON EUTHANASIA IN COLOMBIA

The expression “to live with dignity” is a term that can be discussed until the end of time, ultimately, the meaning of dignity will be given by each individual, and a religion or a political current, however majority it may be, cannot impose its values on others.
Under the 1991 Constitution, it is considered a fundamental right to live and to do so in a dignified manner, where the State must ensure its protection, taking into account the respect for human dignity and the free development of the personality. However, it is necessary to emphasize that this right -like other fundamental rights- is neither absolute nor unlimited, since it is subject to a series of restrictions that prevent its holder from exercising it validly at any given time. In Decision C-578 of 1995, the Court refers to the relativity of these rights, stating that “Fundamental rights, notwithstanding their constitutional consecration and importance, are not absolute and, therefore, must necessarily be harmonized among themselves and with the other goods and values protected by the Charter, otherwise, in the absence of this indispensable relativization, social coexistence and institutional life would not be possible”.
The Constitutional Court, in 1997, considered that the fundamental right to live in a dignified manner has implicit within it the right to die with dignity and that the state’s duty to protect life yields to the personal decision of a terminally ill person as to how to face his or her death. This is how Colombia, with Ruling C-239 of 1997, became one of the first countries in Latin America to regulate euthanasia, decriminalizing the process in the country, stating that “The fundamental right to live in a dignified manner implies the right to die with dignity, because condemning a person to prolong for a short time his existence, when he does not want it and suffers deep afflictions, is equivalent not only to a cruel and inhuman treatment, prohibited by the Charter, but to an annulment of his dignity and autonomy as a moral subject.”
In this sense, the Court proposes, in light of the precepts contained in the Constitution, that the act of Euthanasia should not be sanctioned based on the fact that life belongs only to its owner and he can renounce it when the circumstances surrounding it do not make it worthy of living; in such a way it seeks to put an end to his suffering without the possibility of relief. The Court rightly states that “[…] If respect for human dignity radiates throughout the legal system, it is clear that life cannot simply be seen as something sacred, to the point of ignoring the real situation in which the individual finds himself and his position with respect to the value of life for himself. In the words of this Court: the right to life cannot be reduced to mere subsistence, but implies living adequately in conditions of dignity […].
In this sense then, when by virtue of medical reports it is held that death is inevitable in a short time, the decision to face it (as opposed to staying alive) becomes an important decision for the affected person, taking into account that he is not choosing between death and many years of full life, but between dying in the conditions he chooses, or dying soon after in painful circumstances and that he judges unworthy, reason for which the state duty is considerably weakened, which cannot make heroic demands of wanting a person to decide to live at all costs, supported by onerous medical treatments or religious arguments, rather, it is decided to respect the fundamental rights of people, agreed in a common pact, as is the Constitution of 1991, since as previously stated, in order to protect a dignified life, a dignified death, is shown as another facet as fundamental as Articles 11 and 12 of the Political Charter.
Since its regulation in 1997, many doctors have refused to practice it arguing legal vacuum, or institutional conscientious objection, and although the Court established a regulatory framework to perform palliative pain treatments to terminally ill patients, Congress has not yet legislated on the matter, however, in Ruling T-970 of 2014 it is clearly stated that all adults with terminal illness may access the right to die with dignity if they so wish, being practiced by a treating physician, at the request of the patient, and evaluated by a committee, among other requirements; and most importantly, it reiterated that dying with dignity is a fundamental right, concluding that “[….] for this Court there is no doubt that the right to die with dignity has the category of fundamental. And this is so for several reasons. Following its reasoning, this Court has pointed out that a fundamental right seeks to guarantee the dignity of the human being. That is to say, for a guarantee to be considered fundamental, it must have a close relationship with dignity as a value, principle and right of our constitutional order”.
What is sought is to leave to the discretion of each affected person the power he may have to dispose of his life, regardless of the position of others in this regard, since it is said person who suffers without the desire to continue living, and in this sense it would constitute a violation of the Political Constitution to restrict the freedom and autonomy of the person who, being aware of his precarious state of health, wishes to end his life.
By: Santiago Torres García

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