Ecuador Decriminalizes Euthanasia Amid Debate — By: Church Militant

QUITO, Ecuador ( – Ecuador’s decision to decriminalize euthanasia has sparked significant concern among the Catholic community. 

Paola Roldán

The Feb. 7 ruling by the Constitutional Court came in response to a petition by 42-year-old Paola Roldán, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that destroys nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movements, including chewing, walking, talking and breathing. 

The ruling orders the Ministry of Health to establish procedural regulations within two months, pending legislative action by Congress within a year.

The court stipulated that patients must provide unequivocal, free and informed consent for euthanasia, directly or through a representative.

Church Raises Ethical Concerns

Archbishop Luis Cabrera Herrera of Guayaquil, Ecuador, voiced the Catholic Church’s concerns speaking to Crux, stating “there has been no broad social debate about all the legal, ethical, medical, social, and spiritual aspects involved in that matter.”

A person who is experiencing intense emotions is not always able to make the best decisions.

Cabrera, who criticized the absence of input from medical associations and pro-life groups, questioned the premise of autonomy in decision-making under severe pain.

“The ruling is based on the idea that a person, especially someone who is feeling intense pain, is totally free, autonomous, and independent,” he explained. “But the reality is that a person who is experiencing intense emotions is not always able to make the best decisions.”

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News Report: Delta Hospice Showdown

Cabrera also highlighted the inadequacy of hospice care in Ecuador, saying only 3.5% of terminal patients receive appropriate care. 

He fears the new euthanasia law might lead to a neglect of expanding hospice services, a sentiment echoed by Dr. María  Suárez, an obstetrician in Guayaquil. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that euthanasia is “morally unacceptable.”

Call for Supportive Services

Suárez told Crux that the government’s failure to invest in hospice care leaves many patients in extreme pain and unaware of alternative pain-mitigation methods.

“The population is becoming older, and with age come chronic diseases,” she explained. “The healthcare system needs higher investment in hospice care. With legal euthanasia, some authorities may prefer to resort to it than to spending money with hospice services.”

Suárez emphasized the importance of psychological support for terminal patients, which could potentially alter their end-of-life decisions.

“So, the real answer is to advance in hospice care,” she elaborated. “That’s what we need not only in Ecuador, but in Latin America as a whole. We’re importing an idea from Europe at a moment when we’re only beginning to develop hospice services.”

Doctors Concerned

The Catholic community’s concerns also extend to the potential impact on healthcare professionals, with many fearing the erosion of the right to conscientious objection. 

Roldán herself has opted not to pursue euthanasia following the court’s decision. 

Catholic lawyers are exploring legal avenues to protect the rights of Church-affiliated medical institutions and professionals.

Still, some physicians support the court’s decision due to the lack of hospice care options. 

Petitioner Presses ‘Pause’

The case of Paola Roldán, extensively covered by Ecuadorian media, has deeply impacted public opinion, though Roldán herself has opted not to pursue euthanasia following the court’s decision. 

Average life expectancy with ALS is three years, although individuals like renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died in 2018 after 55 years with the disease.

According to the ALS Association, genetics and age at diagnosis affect the disese’s progression. About 20% of those diagnosed with ALS live for five years, 10% live 10 years and 5% live 20 years or more.

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