CALI – For the first time in years, Víctor Escobar stopped taking most of the medicines needed for his lung disease. There was no longer any need. On Friday evening, he became the first Colombian to be euthanized despite not yet being in terminal condition.
“I feel an immense tranquility. I don't feel fear of what is to come," Escobar told The Associated Press this week. "They have told me that the process is going to be a slow sedation at first so that I have time to say goodbye.
“After that is the injection of the euthanasia, which is going to be something without pain — a very tranquil death. I trust in God that that all this will be that way,” he said in a weak voice while sitting on a sofa in the small home he had been paying off with a pension of $250 a month.
His lawyer, Luis Giraldo, said Friday evening that the process had been completed and Escobar was dead.
Escobar was the first to use a July ruling of the nation's top court that changed the rules for euthanasia, allowing it to be applied to people who suffer intense physical or psychological suffering due to a grave and incurable disease, even if they are not yet near death.
His family declined to reveal the name of the clinic where the euthanasia took place.
The country depenalized euthanasia in 1997, but only for those considered to have fewer than six months to live. While polls indicate most Colombians favor expanding it to people like Escobar, the legislature so far hasn't formally followed the court's lead by explicitly authorizing it and some remain deeply opposed.
The Catholic Church issued a statement in July saying that “any action or omission with the intention of provoking death to overcome pain constitutes homicide.”
From the apartment in Cali, where he was born, Escobar was conscious of the importance of his case, the first in Latin America.
“It is the door so that a patient like me, with degenerative diseases, has the opportunity for a dignified death,” he said Thursday.
Even morphine was insufficient to calm his pain and he said other medications were losing their effects.
He had been ill since 2008, when two strokes cost him the movement of half his body, though some of that returned. He later developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, severe arthrosis and costochondral junction syndrome — a painful inflammation where the ribs meet the breastbone.
Escobar fought to obtain euthanasia for more than two years. Judges twice turned him down because his illnesses were not yet considered terminal.
“It was a complicated affair to confront justice, the political parties, religion and many powerful people as somebody who only had (access to) communications media,,” said Giraldo, his attorney.
In an earlier case, a judge in October had authorized voluntary euthanasia for Martha Sepúlveda, a woman suffering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. But it was cancelled hours before the planned procedure when extensive news coverage led the medical committee at the clinic where it was to be performed to change its mind.
Escobar said he would say farewell to his wife, three children, brother and cousins at a midday meal.
“I will have the opportunity that they give me the warmth of the family and their accompaniment and also that I can thank them in my own name," he said. “It will be a day of rejoicing for us, and I hope it will be something very private.”
Escobar said he hoped his case would lead to actual legalization and regulation of assisted death for non-terminal patients. Legislation to do so failed in November.
“If we ask for a dignified death it is because we are tired of all the illnesses that overcome us," Escobar said. “For us, life ended a long time ago.”