Sample Argumentative Essay: The Case of Martha Sepúlveda and the Legalization of Euthanasia
Euthanasia has become legal in certain countries which allowed terminally-ill patients to legally undergo the procedure. The legalization has allowed these patients to exercise their autonomy and choice to die with dignity. Instead of suffering from their diseases, they can take control of the circumstances of their death. Their families, friends, and caretakers will not see them in poor conditions nor experience the hardships of taking care of terminally ill and suffering patients. Martha Sepúlveda’s case, which involved the cancellation and eventual restoration of a euthanasia procedure, illustrates the positive outlook that the process gives to suffering patients which supports the legalization and practice of euthanasia.
Martha Sepúlveda’s Case
Martha Sepúlveda’ was a 51-year old Colombian woman that suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. It is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects multiple human systems and causes cognitive and behavioral symptoms. This includes issues regarding executive function, personality, social conduct, and emotion processing (Caga et al. 2019). ALS affects patients differently but most eventually lose their ability to speak, swallow, move, and breathe (Subizar, 2021). Fearing the effects of her ALS, Martha Sepúlveda requested to undergo euthanasia and die with dignity.
Since Martha Sepúlveda lived in Colombia, which is one of the few countries that decriminalized euthanasia , she was able to legally apply for the procedure. However, the decriminalization included a policy that strictly stated that only individuals who are near-death or have a life expectancy of fewer than six months can undergo euthanasia. Fortunately, the Colombian Constitutional Court released a ruling in July 2021 that allowed patients who experienced intense physical or mental suffering from incurable diseases to undergo euthanasia (Subizar, 2021). Sepúlveda eventually received the authorization for her euthanasia procedure for October 2021. This made the ALS patient happy as she was able to find a way to end her suffering.
During the period between the approval of her request and the date of the procedure, Sepúlveda garnered social media attention in the country as the Colombian Catholic Church and other parties tried to persuade her against the procedure. Due to this social media attention, images of a smiling and happy Martha Sepúlveda spread through the Internet. These images, along with the social impact of the Internet, became the foundation for the cancellation of Sepúlveda’s euthanasia procedure. The medical committee responsible for the approval of her euthanization reversed their decision due to the images indicating the current mental health of the patient (Subizar, 2021). The medical committee took Sepúlveda’s smiling and happy images as evidence of her healthy mental status which indicates that she does not meet the requirements for the procedure.
In response to the cancellation, Sepúlveda’s lawyers fought for the patient’s rights. This event caused more arguments regarding the ethics of euthanasia in Colombia which further increased Sepúlveda’s social media attention. It also lengthened her suffering since the initial procedure was supposed to occur on October 10, 2021. On October 6, 2021, a Caracol medical report stated that the patient cannot dress, shower, and practice other types of hygiene without assistance (Subizar, 2021). Three weeks after the cancellation, the Court of Medellin restored the authorization for the euthanization and allowed Sepúlveda to choose a new date for the procedure (Subizar, 2022; Birmingham Times, 2021). Martha Sepúlveda chose January 8, 2022, as the date for the procedure and was able to die with autonomy and dignity.
Martha Sepúlveda’s Response to the Authorization
Martha Sepúlveda’s response to the authorization of the procedure showcases the perception of patients with incurable diseases towards euthanasia. According to Subizar (2021), Sepúlveda was happy to be the first patient in Colombia that will undergo euthanasia despite not having a terminal illness. The patient expressed her joy and celebrated with her family after she received the news. The procedure will allow her to die with dignity and avoid suffering from the painful symptoms of ALS. However, this positive response to the authorization became the main reason for the medical committee to reverse its decision regarding her euthanasia procedure.
As mentioned earlier, Sepúlveda’s images led the medical committee to reassess her condition. The social media images showed Sepúlveda smiling, drinking beer, and celebrating. They decided that the images showcase a patient that is not suffering from a painful disease. While the committee interpreted the patient’s response as her overall condition, it is an indication of her gratitude for the opportunity to have a euthanasia procedure. According to experts, the pictures of moments of joy and satisfaction are not enough to assess the overall experience of ALS patients (cited in Subizar, 2021). Instead, the images were the result of the patient’s assurance that she will not suffer from the severe symptoms of her disease.
Sepúlveda’s Response to the Cancellation
The cancellation of the euthanasia procedure harmed Sepúlveda. Jaime Córdoba Triviño, a former magistrate of the Constitutional Court, stated that the cancellation erased the patient’s smile and took away her autonomy (cited in Subizar, 2021). The swift response of Sepúlveda’s lawyers and support of her during the cancellation also showcased the adverse impact of the cancellation. The patient’s lawyers had to file appeals to fight for the rights, autonomy, and dignity of their client. Her family’s support, despite the disapproval of the Colombian Catholic Church, illustrated their understanding of the patient’s situation and the effect of her ALS symptoms.
This cancellation showcased that despite the decriminalization of euthanasia in the country, some influential parties may still have reservations about the procedure. According to the World Federation Right to Die Societies (2021), the Civil Court of the Medellin Circuit stated that the cancellation was illegal and illegitimate since the patient met the requirements that the Colombian Health System regulated. This means that the medical committee reversed their decision prematurely without proper evidence, as illustrated in the cancelation’s sole reason which was the smiling images of the patient.
Similarity With Ovidio González Correa’s Case
The events in Sepúlveda’s case are similar to the first legal euthanasia in Colombia. Ovidio González Correa, a patient suffering from trigeminal neuralgia or suicidal disease, also experienced the cancellation of his euthanasia procedure due to a committee’s reassessment (Subizar, 2021). In Correa’s case, the cancellation of the procedure occurred 15 minutes before the euthanasia procedure. After a few days that included appeals and media attention, the committee reversed its decision after receiving approval from the Colombian Association of Oncology Radiologists and the Health Ministry (Lafuente, 2015). Correa's case, similar to Sepúlveda’s, showcased that euthanasia patients will fight for their right to die as it provides an end to their suffering. Additionally, the cases also imply that medical committees are still indecisive regarding the legalization of euthanasia.
Martha Sepúlveda’s case demonstrates the benefits of euthanasia as it allows an end to a patient’s suffering. Terminally-ill patients and those suffering from incurable diseases are likely to develop severe symptoms as their conditions progress. They understand that as the symptoms worsen, they may become unable to function normally and rely on others. Euthanasia, as in Sepúlveda’s case, provides patients with autonomy over their death and allows them to have a dignified death. Sepúlveda’s response to the approval and authorization of her request illustrate the significance of euthanasia to suffering patients, highlighting its benefits to human life.
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Birmingham Times. (2021). Martha Sepúlveda’s Case Revitalizes Euthanasia Debate In Colombia. Birmingham Times. Available at https://www.birminghamtimes.com/2021/11/martha-sepulvedas-case-revitalizes-euthanasia-debate-in-colombia/. Accessed March 1, 2022.
Caga, J., Hsieh, S., Lillo, P., Dudley, K., & Mioshi, E. (2019). The Impact of Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms on ALS Patients and Their Caregivers. Frontiers in Neurology, vol. 10. Available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2019.00192/full#B1. Accessed March 1, 2022.
Lafuente, J. (2015). Why Colombia’s FIrst Euthanasia Was Stopped with 15 Minutes to Go. El PAIS. Available at https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2015/07/03/inenglish/1435925876_912720.html . Accessed March 3, 2022.
Subizar, P. (2021). This Woman Wanted to Die. Why Was Her Euthanasia Canceled? NBC News. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/woman-wanted-die-was-euthanasia-canceled-rcna3231 . Accessed March 1, 2022.
Subizar, P. (2022). This Woman Wanted to Die Before Her Illness Killed Her. She Finally Got Her Wish. NBC News. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/woman-wanted-die-illness-killed-finally-got-wish-rcna11672. Accessed March 1, 2022.
Wfrtds.org. (2021) Cancellation of the Euthanasia of Martha Sepúlveda is Made Undone. WFRTDS. Available at https://wfrtds.org/cancellation-of-the-euthanasia-of-marta-sepulveda-is-made-undone/ . Accessed March 1, 2022.