Ecuadorian bishops oppose decriminalization of euthanasia: ‘Human life is sacred’

euthanasia Photo by Patrick Thomas / Shutterstock

In a Feb. 14 statement, the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference expressed its profound concern and disagreement with the Constitutional Court’s recent decision to decriminalize euthanasia in the country.

“Human life is sacred and inviolable. Any complicity with death ends up being paid for by the weakest and most vulnerable. A society that does not defend them is condemned to the greatest manipulations and the worst tragedies. It is diabolical to want to defend life by giving a homicide a legal framework,” the bishops said.

On Feb. 7, the country’s highest court declared Article 144 of the Penal Code to be constitutional in general (conditional constitutionality) but made an exception for euthanasia under certain conditions. The article punishes causing a person to die under various circumstances (i.e., not first degree murder) with prison sentences of 10 to 13 years. 

According to the court ruling, the article remains valid, but an exception is established for doctors who help patients who meet certain criteria: first, that the person requests euthanasia in a free and informed manner or through a representative if the patient cannot express himself; second, that the patient is suffering intensely due to a serious and irreversible injury or an incurable disease.

The bishops warned that the ruling “is vague” regarding the scope of the criteria because it does not specifically define them.

“What is meant by these expressions must be specified,” they pointed out, “so as not to put the lives of vulnerable people at risk, such as, for example, psychiatric patients or patients with psychological disorders who would also be at risk. The saddest thing is that children are not spared either.”

Following the court’s decision, Ecuador became the ninth country in the world to accept euthanasia and the second in Latin America to decriminalize it. The next step, according to the ruling, is for euthanasia to be regulated by a law, which must be debated and passed by the National Assembly in the coming months.

In its statement, the bishops’ conference warned of the risk of a “throwaway culture” that is emerging, where the lives of the most vulnerable are threatened: “We are already at the beginning of a slippery slope whose deadly ways will never make a society greater.”

‘Euthanasia is not an issue of freedom’

In their reflection, the prelates warned that the free decision of the patient in a highly vulnerable condition “is strongly conditioned and emotionally affected.” They stated that, in many cases, the decision “may come down to the doctor, the family, and even the state or health care companies that refuse to provide the necessary care to better treat the patient’s condition or [there is a] lack of resources.”

The prelates also stated that euthanasia is not synonymous with “without pain and suffering” since in several cases “patients present complications, such as vomiting from the lethal means or with the recovery of consciousness after an initial effect.”

“The process can take 25 minutes, but the reported range exceeds four days. They are not patients who die relieved emotionally, psychologically, physically, or spiritually,” the prelates pointed out.

For the pastors of Ecuador, “seeking to eliminate suffering is almost like eliminating human nature,” because “life, illness, suffering, and death are part of the human condition.”

Bishops advocate for palliative care law

In their statement, the bishops’ conference presented the following question: “What is our responsibility as a society?” to which it emphatically replied: “Our responsibility is to alleviate suffering. To advocate for the implementation and promotion of a palliative care law in Ecuador, given that it currently doesn’t exist, instead of resigning ourselves to accepting the worst of the alternatives.”

Furthermore, the bishops emphasized: “We cannot offer the option of death if we do not even guarantee the basic health requirements for a decent  life.”

In Ecuador, coverage for palliative care is barely 3.5%, according to Viviana Araujo Lugo, president of the Ecuadorian Association of Palliative Care.

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According to data from the 2020 Atlas of Palliative Care in Latin America, only 78 teams were registered that offer these services in the country, which are mostly concentrated in urban areas and large cities.

‘The right to life is inalienable’

The Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference charged that “euthanasia ignores the dignity of all people,” since it makes “unfair discrimination between those who deserve to live, receive help and care, and those who do not.”

“We categorize human beings into groups: the healthy, the disabled, the unproductive, the poor who cannot access better support in their suffering. This has a deterrent effect, since it creates subtle coercion and a feeling of being a ‘burden,’ since the patient will know that there is an exit door to avoid problems for others,” they noted.

According to the Ecuadorian bishops, they decided to “raise their voices,” because “no life is worth less than another.” They also did so in solidarity with those who “dedicate their time and energy to accompany medically, psychologically, and spiritually those who suffer from degenerative, chronic, or incurable diseases.”

“We will continue to announce the gospel of life with our compassion and our action,” they concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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