BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A 79-year old man suffering from incurable throat cancer has become the first Colombian to die by euthanasia with the full backing of the government.
Ovidio Gonzalez died Friday in the western city of Pereira after weeks of public feuding with doctors and hospital administrators over a Health Ministry decree mandating that clinics perform the procedure when requested by terminally ill patients.
A Constitutional Court ruling 17 years ago made Colombia the first and still only country in Latin America, and one of just a handful worldwide, to allow euthanasia. But Congress never passed laws regulating the procedure, as the high court had ordered, and in April the Health Ministry intervened, providing the regulatory guidelines for insurers and hospitals.
Religious groups and many doctors were outraged and the country’s conservative inspector general tried to block application of the new rules, which requires all hospitals to form medical committees to evaluate a patient’s request for euthanasia. The Roman Catholic church threatened to close the dozens of hospitals it runs in the country if required to carry out the procedures.
Gonzalez is the first to die in accordance with the government decree. Until now, most assisted suicides were carried out at patients’ homes and performed semi-clandestinely by doctors in a state of legal limbo.
Gonzalez was assisted in his battle for euthanasia by his son, Julio Cesar Gonzalez, a cartoonist for top-selling daily El Tiempo. Gonzalez, whose pen name is “Matador,” or “Killer,” bade farewell to his father in a cartoon Friday showing the grim reaper, scythe in hand, asking his father why his bags are packed.
“I’m dying to travel,” answers his father, suitcases in hand.