Medical assistance in suicide: The constitutional court in the skin of the patient

On May 11, 2022, the Constitutional Court announced a historic decision: it decriminalized medical assistance in suicide (AMS). It is a practice similar to euthanasia, but with an essential difference: the patient, in accordance with his idea of ​​a dignified death and captured by a serious and incurable disease, causes his own death. And, of course, he has the help of a doctor who accompanies him in the most important decision of his life, without this health professional being the one who “presses the button” at the decisive moment.

In context: Physician-assisted suicide is legal: Constitutional Court

Five months later, the Court published the full decision on the decriminalization of AMS, in which the arguments of the parties for and against, as well as the considerations of the body responsible for checking the conformity of laws with the Constitution are recorded.. Although the full text is known almost half a year later, as the court itself reiterated, the decision has been final since last May.

“The most innovative contribution to dignified death is the role of the principle of solidarity in the care provided by professionals at the end of life. Although the Court has referred to the issue in the past, for the first time – after fourteen court decisions – it has made a more extensive analysis regarding medical practice in death benefits,” explained DescLAB, a group of lawyers and investigators, guarantors of dignified death , who made the request to the Supreme Court.

In the patient’s shoes

In part of the 67-page decision, the Constitutional Court assessed AMS from the patient’s point of view. The Supreme Court considers that medical practice is in line with dignity, given that the design of one’s own life project covers the possibility that each citizen decides to end it prematurely. This under the same circumstances is already approved for euthanasia, which has been legal in Colombia since 1997.

On video: What is physician-assisted suicide and how will it be practiced?

The Court then argued that pain is a bodily stimulus. However, suffering is the mental processing that the brain makes of these stimuli and is therefore an experience that belongs only to those who suffer from it. In conclusion, it is up to the patient to decide whether his suffering is incompatible with his idea of ​​a decent life. “The State’s duty to preserve life at all costs cannot be predicated,” the Court observed.

The decision states that ASU is actually a tool that protects the free development of the personality. The reason is clear: it is the patient who rushes to the doctor’s aid, expressing his free will to end his life and, moreover, does not cede the decisive moment to a third party. The person himself, consenting, administers the medicine that stops his pain.

Read: What’s the difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (MAS)?

“The medical act implies an understanding of the patient in all his dimensions. Thus, the pain suffered by a patient in extreme conditions directly compromises the doctor, who is the one who has the ability to reduce the pain and help the patient materialize his decision – already made – to end it,” added the Cut. Understand , it is specified that the health professional has the right to conscientiously object and leave the AMS in the hands of another.

Finally, the Constitutional Court explained that it was not within its competence to order how to treat AMC. Therefore, he called on Congress – as it has done since 1997 with the decriminalization of euthanasia – to regulate the issue and provide a clear alphabet on how both mechanisms for a dignified death should work in Colombia.

“At DescLAB, we will continue to push for legislative bills introduced in Congress to include both euthanasia and AMS as part of exercising a dignified death within the freedom and autonomy that people have at the end of life. the plaintiffs concluded.

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