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ROME – Euthanasia might soon be legalized in Uruguay and Argentina, which could have a domino effect in the world’s most Catholic continent, where the practice is banned everywhere but in Colombia.
Euthanasia is the procedure through which a medical professional terminates a life at the request of the patient or their family, in a medical facility.
Argentina made abortion on demand available until week 14 of the pregnancy last December, reigniting the debate in several countries despite the ongoing pandemic.
Colombia is the only country in Latin America where euthanasia is legal, and only six countries around the world allow it: Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Canada, and New Zealand. However, assisted suicide – when a medical professional gives a patient drugs to terminate their own life – is legal in several other countries.
Cardenal Daniel Sturla, archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay, spoke about the matter in his Christmas message, released earlier this week, supporting “the defense of life from conception to natural death,” and rejected any “action that searches for death.”
The message comes as the Uruguayan parliament debate issues related to palliative care and euthanasia.
“We, as a Church, always bet on the defense of life,” Sturla said.
The prelate pointed out that what the Church defends is the dignity of the person that dies of natural causes, but with the “cares that avoid pain, even if these might speed up the process, but with no action that looks for death.”
He also pointed out that Catholic doctrine does not agree with “therapeutic cruelty, but neither does it agree with hastening the death of a sick person.”
In neighboring Argentina, a project to legalize euthanasia called “Good Death” was presented by three legislators last November. The initiative aims at regulating what it calls the “right of every person to ask for assistance and receive the needed help to die when they are suffering grave or incurable illness, as well as a chronic illness.”
The bill was not presented by the party of President Alberto Fernandez, but the local bishops are interested in knowing where he stands on this issue, and sources have told Crux that though the issue was on the agenda for the annual meeting the leadership of the bishops’ conference had with the president on Wednesday, it wasn’t a priority since it’s not something the president can decide.
Last year, the bishops skipped the traditional meeting, due to Fernandez’s decision to push for the legalization of abortion.
When it comes to euthanasia, however, Fernandez had not made it a campaign issue, nor was it debated during the mid-term elections held in November.
In a statement released by the bishops’ conference late on Wednesday, the prelates say that the executive commission “transmitted the need to care for life in all of its development stages, from conception until natural death” during their meeting with the president.
The bishops and the president also spoke about the country’s growing poverty, a product of both the pandemic and structural mismanagement. According to the latest report from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, nearly 44 percent of the country lives below the poverty line, and 10 percent live in extreme poverty.
“The bishops [told Fernandez] they perceived an increase in violence, in part because of the anger and sadness caused by the pandemic,” the statement says. “In addition to the growing social inequality, the increase in poverty, the problem of access to housing and the educational crisis generated by the pandemic, the bishops also expressed concern about the increase in drug use during the pandemic.”
In a series of videos highlighting the challenges the Church in Argentina faces for the next few years, Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the conference, spoke about the defense of life, from conception until natural death.
Earlier this month, Argentina’s Council for Religious Freedom, that brings together leaders from most of the faith traditions present in the country including the Catholic Church, released a statement criticizing the project to legalize euthanasia.
“Though recognizing that there are differences among us, there’s ample consensus among religious confessions about the eminent dignity of all human beings, healthy or sick, and of the duty to respect, honor and care for life, as [religions] generally value as a fight from God,” the council said.
The statement also describes the project of “Good Death” as the “facilitation of assisted suicide and the elimination of patients with chronic deceases, including children and people with restricted capacities.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma