'A Dignified Death': Man Set to Become Colombia's First to Be Euthanized Under New Rules

New rules in Colombia have allowed people with incurable illnesses suffering intense pain to die by euthanasia, even if they are not terminally ill. Victor Escobar is set to be the first.

In 2008, two "cerebrovascular incidents" caused Escobar to lose movement in half of his body. He later developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthrosis and costochondral junction syndrome. Though he has since regained some movement, he said he is in so much constant pain that even morphine cannot quell it.

Previously, Colombia allowed euthanasia only for those with fewer than six months to live. Though there is no legislation in the country allowing euthanasia for non-terminal patients, its highest court ruled in July that the definition could extend to people with incurable illnesses that cause great physical or psychological pain who are not within months of death naturally.

Escobar will be the first to utilize the new ruling. He told the Associated Press that he is set to be slowly sedated followed by a euthanasia injection on Friday evening.

"If we ask for a dignified death, it is because we are tired of all the illnesses that overcome us," he said Thursday. "For us, life ended a long time ago."

He said he felt "an immense tranquility" and no fear leading up to his death.

"[The euthanasia injection] is going to be something without pain—a very tranquil death," he said. "I trust in God that all this will be that way."

Victor Escobar, Colombia, euthanasia
Victor Escobar, who suffers chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, oxygen dependence, lack of muscle control and secondary effects from a stroke, is scheduled on the evening of January 7, 2022, to become the first person in Colombia to receive euthanasia legally without being a terminally ill patient. Above, Escobar sits at his home during an interview in Cali, Colombia, on January 6, 2022. Ivan Valencia/AP Photo

"They have told me that the process is going to be a slow sedation at first so that I have time to say goodbye," Escobar said.

His family declined to reveal the name of the clinic where the euthanasia was to take place.

The country depenalized euthanasia in 1997, but only for those considered to have fewer than six months to live. While polls indicate most Colombians favor expanding it to people like Escobar, the legislature so far hasn't formally followed the court's lead by explicitly authorizing it and some remain deeply opposed.

The Catholic Church issued a statement in July saying that "any action or omission with the intention of provoking death to overcome pain constitutes homicide."

From the apartment in Cali, where he was born and plans to die, Escobar was conscious of the importance of his case, the first in Latin America.

"It is the door so that a patient like me, with degenerative diseases, has the opportunity for a dignified death," he said Thursday.

Even morphine is insufficient now to calm his pain and he said other medications are losing their effects.

Escobar has been fighting to obtain euthanasia for more than two years. Judges twice turned him down because his illnesses were not yet considered terminal.

"It was a complicated affair to confront justice, the political parties, religion and many powerful people as somebody who only had [access to] communications media," said his attorney, Luis Giraldo.

In an earlier case, a judge had authorized voluntary euthanasia for a woman suffering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Martha Sepúlveda, in October. But it was canceled hours before the planned procedure when extensive news coverage led the medical committee at the clinic where it was to be performed to change its mind.

Escobar said he planned to say farewell to his wife, three children, brother and cousins at a midday meal.

"I will have the opportunity that they give me the warmth of the family and their accompaniment and also that I can thank them in my own name," he said. "It will be a day of rejoicing for us, and I hope it will be something very private."

Escobar said he hoped his case would lead to actual legalization and regulation of assisted death for non-terminal patients. Legislation to do so failed in November.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.