Ecuador’s top court decriminalises euthanasia following lawsuit by terminally ill patient

Ecuador decriminalised euthanasia on Wednesday, becoming the second Latin American country to allow the procedure, in response to a lawsuit brought by a terminally ill patient.

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With seven of its nine judges voting in favor, the country’s Constitutional Court opened the door for doctors to help an untreatable patient die without going to jail.

The penalty for homicide “cannot be applied to a doctorwho performs an active euthanasia procedure in order to preserve the rights to a dignified life,” the court ruling said.

The lawsuit was brought in August by Paola Roldan, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurological disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In her complaint, Roldan contested an article of the Ecuadorian penal code, which considers the procedure a homicide carrying a sentence of between 10 and 13 years in prison.

“I want to rest in peace. What I experience is painful, lonely and cruel,” Roldan, who is bedridden, told a court hearing in November via video link.

“This is not a fight to die. I know I’m dying, it’s a fight on how to do it,” she said in a broken voice, an oxygen tube attached to her nose.

‘Free and informed decisions’ 

Ecuador followed in the footsteps of Colombia, which decriminalized euthanasia in 1997.

Lawmakers in Uruguay and Chile are currently debating the issue, while Mexico has a so-called “good death” law, which lets the patient or their family opt out of life support.

After studying Roldan’s arguments, the court in this traditionally conservative, majority-Catholic nation ruled that “it would be unreasonable to impose an obligation to stay alive on someone who is going through this situation.”

“Every human being can make free and informed decisions when their personal development is affected, which… includes the option of ending the intense suffering caused by a serious and irreversible bodily injury or a serious and incurable illness,” it said.

The court tasked the Health Ministry with drafting regulations for the procedure within two months. For its part, the Ombudsman’s office would have to draft a bill on euthanasia within six months to be approved by Congress within a year.

But Roldan’s lawyer Farith Simon on Wednesday insisted in a post on X, formerly, that “the sentence is immediately enforceable.”

Writing on social media Friday, when she learned that her case before the high court was in the final stage, Roldan said: “Several times I thought that I would not be able to see the fruits of this lawsuit, like someone who plants a tree so that someone else can sit under its shadow.”


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