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Columbian High Court Ruling Highlights Choice

August 1999

Few around the world noticed on May 20, 1997, when the high Constitutional Court in Columbia declared the state could not outlaw assisted dying for a mentally competent, terminally ill adult, nor impose a penalty on one who aides that person out of mercy. We in the United States who did notice have been hampered in dissemination of the news by the lack of a translation of the ruling.

In the last Compassion in Dying Federation newsletter, we asked readers fluent in Spanish for help. Through the gracious diligence of one such supporter, we now have a comprehensive translation of the ruling. We are pleased to share this with any interested individuals.

The ruling is long and contains dense legal language. So translating such a document required substantial skill. We are enormously grateful to add this important document to our public education materials. We intend to make it available soon on our web site.

Two remarkable aspects of the Columbian ruling stand out. First, it is astonishing that such a ruling occurred and has been sustained in a country where Roman Catholicism dominates religious and public life. Second, the ruling actually arose in a case brought to increase the penalty for the crime known as "mercy homicide." The plaintiff objected to the penal code's relatively short sentence of 6 months to 3 years in prison for "killing another for mercy, in order to stop intense suffering." But instead of imposing a longer sentence, the Court ruled that even the current sentence violated Constitutional principles of dignity and solidarity in helping those in need. Further, criminal penalties could not be justified by the state's duty to protect life.

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The ruling contains inspiring language about liberty, individual rights, dignity and the proper role of religious doctrine in a democratic society. It strongly condemns a state that would force a suffering, dying person to continue living against her will. Such actions are cruel and inhumane and reduce a person, "to an instrument for the preservation of life as an abstract value."

"The State cannot oppose the decision of the individual who does not wish to continue on living and who asks to be helped to die, when he suffers a terminal illness that causes him terrible pain, incompatible with his idea of dignity," the ruling continues. Such a person may "exercise his will, without the ability of the state to oppose his wishes, nor impede, through prohibition or sanction, that another would help him exercise his option."

Quite a surprising outcome for a lawsuit intended to tighten Columbia's grip on choice in dying and magnify the criminal penalty for assistance. It is invigorating to read enlightened and courageous words from a nation's highest constitutional authority. But in the United States, where we pride ourselves on civil liberties and respect for the individual, we have still so far to go. We will be pleased to provide a copy of the complete translation for $5, to help cover processing, copying and postage costs. Contact Kim Maine at 503-221-9556 to receive a copy.





  
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This article was provided by Compassion in Dying. It is a part of the publication Compassion in Dying.
 

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