Staring death in the eye, Martha Sepúlveda appeared to be the picture of unabashed ebullience. During a recent interview with Noticias Caracol’s Juan David Laverde, the 51-year-old – who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) nearly three years ago – momentarily forgot about her crippling condition, joked alongside her son and threw back a few beers.
“I’m in good spirits,” she told the outlet. “I’m at peace since they authorized the procedure; I laugh more, get better sleep.”
That procedure was euthanasia.
Following a Colombian court’s expansion of euthanasia to include non-terminal patients over the summer, Ms Sepúlveda submitted a request for assisted death, which was granted a week later.
Having finalised all the details, down to the date and exact time she was to go (she chose this Sunday, given her religious background), local health authorities announced on Saturday they reconsidered their ruling and Ms Sepúlveda’s request had been overturned.
Included in their reasoning, the organisation alluded to the above mentioned interview that has since gone viral, garnering more than 2.5 million views on Twitter alone, and inspired international coverage by The Washington Post, NBC News and The Independent.
The eleventh hour call came after the Colombian Institute of Pain, the clinic that was to administer Ms Sepúlveda’s procedure, asserted it now had an “updated concept of the patient’s health and evolution”, which overwrote the eligibility determined by an initial committee. Through a news release, the institute said its revised determination was “unanimous”.
Prior to the weekend announcement, Ms Sepúlveda’s attorney, Camila Jaramillo Salazar, said her client’s decision to end her life was not made in haste and had been “meditated and reflected upon for several months”. She also noted the original request was granted following a comprehensive evaluation by a medical committee that included a clinical psychologist.
People the world over were inspired by Ms Sepúlveda’s Zen attitude, and her reconciliation of elective death and faith.
“I consider myself to be a firm believer in God, but God doesn’t want to see me or any other person in agony,” the devout Catholic said. “No father wants to see His children suffer.”
Her words caused a stir in the deeply religious country, which plays host to the world’s seventh largest concentration of Catholics and ignited what Ms Jaramillo Salazar dubbed a “religious commotion.”
The Episcopal Conference of Colombia, a group formed by all the bishops from the country’s dioceses, called for national prayer and fasting. Banners were placed in major cities to “impede” Ms Sepúlveda’s “infamous” resolve.
“In accordance with our deepest Christian convictions, death cannot be the therapeutic answer to pain and suffering in any case,” monsignor Francisco Antonio Ceballos Escobar said in a video statement posted to Facebook. The clergyman pointed out that euthanasia “isn’t compatible with [the church’s] interpretation of dignified human life,” and invited Ms Sepúlveda to “serenely reflect.”
Ahead of the latest turn, Ms Sepúlveda had reflected and appeared to be at ease. “I laugh more, get better sleep,” she said. Moreover, her elderly mother and 11 siblings had come to terms with her choice, as did her son, Federico Redondo.
In recent weeks, Mr Redondo became a conduit of joy for his mother, ensuring that “her stay on Earth, whatever’s left of it, is an enjoyable one.”
In a follow-up interview with Noticias Caracol, the 22-year-old law student labeled health authorities’ change of heart as “irregular” and said his mom’s contagious laughter was gone.
“This circumstance has brought my mom back to her previous hopeless and sad state,” he said, adding that the pair didn’t plan on taking the news lying down.
“We’re ready to fight till the end for my mom’s dignity, as her decision hasn’t changed based on this development,” he said.With information from Juan David Laverde/Noticias Caracol and Elmer Huerta/RPP Noticias