Ecuador’s Constitutional Court Decriminalizes Euthanasia

The National Assembly, for its part, will have a period of 12 months to debate and approve the bill.

Euthanasia is a grave sin. ‘It is morally unacceptable,’ explains the Catechism (2277).
Euthanasia is a grave sin. ‘It is morally unacceptable,’ explains the Catechism (2277). (photo: Shutterstock)

In a Feb. 7 ruling, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador decriminalized euthanasia in response to the lawsuit filed by Paola Roldán, a woman who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable degenerative disease.

“The Constitutional Court has put itself above the Constitution to go against the vulnerable, in this case those sick with terminal chronic illness in Ecuador,” Martha Cecilia Villafuerte, founder and national director of Familia Ecuador, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Feb. 7. “They have taken advantage of a specific case, of a person with an irreversible disease, to request access to euthanasia.”

According to the pro-life leader, “this is a very hard blow against the human dignity and constitutional rights of Ecuadorians.”

“Seven of the nine judges have decided that it’s better to get rid of the burden of a sick person, to allow another person to take his life, instead of reinforcing or reaffirming the defense of his rights to comprehensive and proper health care, with all the medical care he deserves,” she said.

On Aug. 8, 2023, Roldán, 42, filed a lawsuit with the court seeking to declare Article 144 of the Penal Code unconstitutional. The article punishes causing a person to die under various circumstances (i.e., not first degree murder) with prison sentences of 10 to 13 years. On Feb. 7, the country’s highest court declared the article to be constitutional in general but made an exception for euthanasia under certain conditions. 

According to the court ruling, the article remains valid, but an exception is established for doctors who help patients who meet certain criteria: first, that the person requests euthanasia in a free and informed manner or through a representative if the patient cannot express himself; second, that the patient is suffering intensely due to a serious and irreversible injury or an incurable disease.

Under the conditions previously noted, a doctor cannot be punished for performing euthanasia.

In basing its decision, the Constitutional Court stated that “the challenged article (144) in the case addressed is contrary to the right to free development of personality,” arguing that in certain extreme cases these rights can justify the exception to the prohibition of euthanasia.

According to Villafuerte, “no palliative care law” has been promoted in Ecuador but instead “the constitution has been manipulated” in this case.

The court’s decision “is a new manipulation since it opens the door to a slippery slope where anyone can request that such vulnerable articles of the Penal Code be reinterpreted. The only article that criminalizes homicide in Ecuador has been altered, it has been violated. Our security under the law, our security as citizens, as Ecuadorians, has been left helpless in the face of any type of threat,” she said.

In the decision, the Constitutional Court also ruled that within a period of two months, the Ministry of Public Health must develop a regulation for active euthanasia procedures. While within six months, the People’s Ombudsman Office must introduce a bill that creates regulations in accordance with the ruling.

The National Assembly, for its part, will have a period of 12 months to debate and approve the bill.

In this regard, Villafuerte said that pro-lifers must get ready “this year and next year to be able to fight the battle, mobilize the bases, and seriously think about taking to the streets again.”

“This year it’s time for a partial turnover in the Constitutional Court, that is, three of the nine judges must be changed and we are analyzing the ways to strengthen, to be able to recommend lawyers who really have a patriotic sense of respect for the constitution and who really represent the voice of 18 million Ecuadorians,” she concluded.

According to Article 432 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, the members of the Constitutional Court hold their positions “for a period of nine years, without immediate reelection and will be renewed by thirds every three years.”

Among the requirements to be a member of the Constitutional Court are being Ecuadorian “in the exercise of one’s political rights,” “having a third-level law degree legally recognized in the country,” having practiced the career for “a minimum period of 10 years,” “demonstrating probity and ethics,” and not having belonged to the board of directors of any political party or political movement during “the last 10 years.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.