Bogota, Colombia: Dr Gustavo Quintana walks out of a modest, two-floor apartment building in southern Bogota. Inside his black doctor’s bag are vials containing anesthesia and muscle relaxants, a syringe and a rubber tourniquet.The man known in Colombia as Dr Death has just ended the life of his 234th patient: a middle-aged woman suffering from incurable stomach cancer.
For years, Quintana and a handful of other physicians have been performing what they consider mercy killings in a semi-clandestine state, at risk of prosecution and amid widespread rejection from other doctors and church officials.
But their pioneering work took a step out of the shadows on Saturday when, after weeks of heated public debate and last-minute legal challenges, 79-year-old Ovidio Gonzalez became the first Colombian to die as a result of government-sanctioned euthanasia.
Gonzalez, 79, died at a hospital in the western city of Pereira after suffering from terminal mouth cancer the past five years. His death is the first in accordance with an April decree by the Health Ministry mandating that clinics perform the procedure when requested by terminally ill patients. A Constitutional Court ruling 17 years ago made Colombia the first and still only country in Latin America, and one of just a handful worldwide, to allow euthanasia.