Argentine in 'death with dignity case' dies

BUENOS AIRES: An Argentine man who has been in a vegetative state for over 20 years has died after life support systems were disconnected, hours after the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead.

Word of the death of Marcelo Diez came Wednesday from his sister Andrea.

She and other siblings had been lobbying for years to let their brother have what they considered death with dignity.

Diez died in a matter of hours Tuesday after his feeding tubes and respirator were unplugged as per a ruling from the Supreme Court.

"Marcelo is free now, especially from the perversion and cruelty of those persons and institutions that violated his will," his sister said.

Diez had suffered a motorcycle accident in 1994 at age 30 and lived in a vegetative state since, breathing with a respirator and receiving nourishment through a tube.

His brothers and sisters argued that Diez had always warned them that in a situation like this he would not want his life prolonged artificially.

The court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that he could be disconnected from the life support systems.

The court insisted this did not amount to euthanasia, which is illegal in the traditionally Catholic country that is the birthplace of Pope Francis.

Rather, the ruling stems from a 2012 law that allows people to state in advance what they want done with them if they become incapacitated or terminally ill, the court said.

In this case, the ruling was unprecedented because there was no written record of what the man wanted so the court let his siblings speak and decide for him.

The Supreme Court said Diez's family could vouch for what he would have wanted, were he able to communicate.

Diez's siblings filed suit in 2013 after the 2012 Patients' Right Law had been passed, seeking that he be allowed to die with dignity. A provincial court agreed.

But prosecutors dealing with cases of incapacitated people stepped in, saying the siblings had no legal grounds to stand on.

The Catholic Church also weighed in. It argued that disconnecting a person in a vegetative state amounted to passive euthanasia and "the crime of abandonment."

Argentina has often been at the vanguard of change on sensitive social issues in South America.

It legalized gay marriage in 2010, for instance, although abortion remains illegal except in cases where the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy.