How to Die in Columbia: A Constitutional Dilemma


  • Estefania Palomino


In 1997, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decriminalized the medical practice of euthanasia in patients with serious and incurable diseases. Decision C-239 became one of the most radical advancements on the right to die debates in the world. At the time, European countries who have led this discussion, such as the Netherlands, hadn’t legalized and incorporated the right to die into their own legal systems. In 2015, Colombia’s Constitutional Court authorized the first legal clinical euthanasia in the country through a constitutional process also known astutelaon behalf of 79-year old Ovidio González. Mr. González decided to die at a clinic due to the suffering that he was experiencing while battling throat cancer. In this paper, I analyze the reasoning behind Decision C-239 and the long pathway to its implementation in the first Latin American country to legalize euthanasia. I will also examine other constitutional actions presented by terminal patients in defense of their right to die. The objective of this article is to provide routes of constitutional strategic litigation for advocates in other countries by building upon Colombia’s experience, and to study the role of the Constitutional Court in shaping ethical debates such as euthanasia.

Author Biography

Estefania Palomino

Program Manager, Latin American Division of Women’s Equality Program, Wyss Foundation M.A., United Nations University for Peace, International Law and Settlement of Disputes LL.M, Georgetown University Law School, Global Health Law