Crime & Justice

Ecuador debates euthanasia with case of Paola Roldán, who demands dignified death

Quito, Nov 20 (EFE).- Ecuador’s Constitutional Court held a historic first hearing on Monday where it discussed the possible eventual legalization of euthanasia at the request of Paola Roldán, a woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and who demands that the State guarantee her a dignified death.

“I have lived a full life and I know that the only thing I deserve is a death with dignity,” explained Roldán in the virtual hearing to which she appeared by videoconference, lying in her bed, assisted by artificial respiration and cared for around the clock by her husband.

The hearing, chaired by constitutional judge Enrique Herrería, heard the arguments of Roldán and her lawyers, representatives of the National Assembly (parliament) and the government, as well as a series of lawyers and experts who acted as amicus curiae – independent opinion.

Roldán seeks to declare the conditional unconstitutionality of article 144 of the Ecuadorian penal code, referring to homicide, which condemns the “person who kills another” with a sentence of 10-13 years in prison.

The lawsuit highlights the importance of recognizing people’s capacity to make decisions about the end of their lives in the event of irreversible and unbearable suffering, as is the case of Roldán.

Counterarguments related to legality, law and ethics were also presented, including the fear that people who assist others to die will be treated as murderers.

Roldán was diagnosed with ALS three years ago and she currently has a 95 percent disability, so she remains bedridden all day in a hospital bed installed in her home, where she also has artificial respiration and assisted feeding.

“I have had the privilege of having access to the best palliative care, both in the country and abroad, with cutting-edge medications and technology, and I must say with sufficient certainty that they are not enough,” Roldán said in her testimony, in which she made it clear that her “pain is constant and relentless.”

ALS is a fatal motor neuron disease characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain and affects voluntary control of arms and legs, and leads to trouble breathing, according to Johns Hopkins University. ALS does not affect intelligence, thinking, seeing, or hearing, but there is no known cure.

Emotional pain is also another issue for Roldán, and she recalled “the pain of having my son with fever lying next to me, crying with fever and not being able to extend my hand two centimeters to touch his forehead.”

“This is not the fight to die. I know that I am dying. It is a fight of how to do it. Should I do it stuck, suffocated, alone, in the arms of a stranger, in hiding, or can I do it contained and sustained in the my husband’s arms?” she questioned.

“After everything I’ve done, all the roads I’ve walked, I want to rest in peace – with dignity and peace.”

Constitutional lawyer Ramiro Ávila, who sponsors Roldán, asked the court to recognize the right to a dignified death when people who experience intense physical and/or emotional suffering due to a serious or incurable illness or injury decide to undergo euthanasia.

The Constitutional Court gave 72 hours for other people and experts to present arguments for or against the reform and is expected to issue a ruling in the coming days that could set a historical precedent. EFE


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