Ecuador’s Constitutional Court Legalizes Euthanasia

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court Legalizes Euthanasia
The lawyer of Paola Roldan, Ramiro Ávila, who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), has been fighting for the rights of his client.
Photo Credit: EFE/José Jácome

Historic moment in Ecuador as the Constitutional Court approves the legalization of euthanasia. This is in response to the plea of Paola Roldán, a 42-year-old ALS patient.

Paola Roldán is battling ALS, a devastating and incurable disease that affects the nerves and muscles. She approached the court in 2023, requesting permission for an assisted death. This plea was based on the intense and unbearable suffering she was enduring because of the disease.

After much deliberation, the court, with a majority of seven out of its nine judges, declared the “conditional constitutionality” of article 144 of the Ecuadorian Penal Code. This article previously criminalized the act of killing another person, with sentences ranging from ten to 13 years in prison. The Court stated that the article would be constitutionally valid if a doctor consents to a patient’s request for active euthanasia, based on intense suffering caused by a severe and irreversible injury or a serious and incurable disease.

Further, the court declared the “additive constitutionality” of article 6 of the Code of Medical Ethics. The changes made to this article will allow doctors to perform the euthanasia procedure without being prosecuted for murder, provided they adhere to the conditions set by the court. The court also declared article 90 of the Code of Medical Ethics unconstitutional. This article previously stated that doctors were not authorized to end a patient’s life and their primary duty in the face of an incurable disease was to provide relief through therapeutic means.

Based on this new ruling, the Ombudsman’s Office has been directed to draft a bill outlining the procedures for the application of euthanasia within six months. The Ministry of Health in Ecuador also has two months to develop regulations for the euthanasia procedure. The National Assembly, Ecuador’s Parliament, has been given 12 months to pass a law regulating euthanasia.

With this landmark decision, Ecuador has become the third country in Latin America, following Colombia and Cuba, to legalize euthanasia.

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