‘Pris­oner’ in Peru cam­paigns for right to end her own life

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Franklin Briceño

LIMA, Peru — Al­most com­pletely par­a­lyzed by a ter­mi­nal ill­ness, 42-yearold Peru­vian Ana Estrada says she is a “pris­oner in her own body” and yearns to be legally al­lowed to end her own life.

But Peru doesn’t per­mit med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide, so Estrada is cam­paign­ing for a change in the law from the elec­tric wheel­chair in her Lima home.

“It’s about fight­ing for the right to choose,” Estrada said in an in­ter­view with The Associated Press on her pa­tio, sur­rounded by pot­ted plants and small sculp­tures. She spoke with a feed­ing tube in her belly and an­other tube in­serted into her wind­pipe to help her breathe.

Estrada was di­ag­nosed at the age of 14 with polymyosi­tis, a disease that wastes away mus­cles and has no cure. By 20, she was too weak to walk and started us­ing a wheel­chair. Even so, she grad­u­ated with a psy­chol­ogy de­gree from the Pon­tif­i­cal Catholic Univer­sity of Peru and worked as a ther­a­pist.

Estrada con­tin­ued to build her life, sav­ing money, buy­ing an apart­ment, hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship and tak­ing on a pet cat. Things changed in 2015. Her con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated, she got pneu­mo­nia and spent a year in in­ten­sive care in a Lima hospi­tal.

“It’s like be­ing a pris­oner in my own body, 24 hours a day,” said Estrada, who needs round-the-clock care. Her re­la­tion­ship col­lapsed and she gave up the cat for adop­tion, but has found re­newed pur­pose in push­ing for the le­gal­iza­tion of physi­cian-as­sisted sui­cide.

No mem­ber of Peru’s leg­is­la­ture has taken up her cause. In ad­di­tion abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage are also il­le­gal in the mostly Catholic coun­try.

“It’s a sub­ject that alarms peo­ple and no­body wants to put their hands in the fire be­cause they’ll get burned,” said Estrada, whose fam­ily was ini­tially re­luc­tant to sup­port her goal but now re­spects her de­ci­sion.

She has found an ally in the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice, which plans to go to court in the com­ing weeks to seek a le­gal ex­emp­tion for Estrada that would al­low her the op­tion of med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide.

“In Peru, ‘mercy killing’ is crime car­ry­ing three years in jail, so any per­son or doctor who wants to help her would be com­mit­ting a crime,” Pub­lic De­fender Wal­ter Gu­tier­rez said. “Her case won’t change the law, but it opens a path.”

Among those coun­tries to have le­gal­ized physi­cianas­sisted sui­cide are Bel­gium, Canada, Colom­bia, Lux­em­bourg, the Nether­lands and Switzer­land. Eight U.S. states and Wash­ing­ton D.C. have also le­gal­ized med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide. Mon­tana doesn’t have a spe­cific law on the books but a state Supreme Court rul­ing has al­lowed such deaths to pro­ceed.

“If this ex­ists in other coun­tries, I want it to ex­ist here,” Estrada said.

She de­scribed her strug­gle as “a tiny grain of sand” that will hope­fully make peo­ple think about the is­sue.

The walls of Estrada’s bed­room have a pic­ture of a woman ly­ing in a for­est, and an­other of a girl fly­ing with birds. She has seven tat­toos — birds, plants, a dag­ger — that she says re­mind her that “life is beau­ti­ful.”

Pneu­mol­o­gist Gon­zalo Gianella, who has treated Estrada, said the ill­ness was me­thod­i­cally shut­ting down her body be­cause, with­out func­tion­ing mus­cles, “you be­gin to have trou­ble speak­ing, swal­low­ing, breath­ing, mov­ing, do­ing your things.”

Bath time was the worst mo­ment for Estrada when she was in the hospi­tal. One nurse held her and an­other cleaned her, speak­ing with each other but never look­ing at the pa­tient to check if she was in pain.

“When you’re in hospi­tal, you lose your iden­tity. There is a kind of degra­da­tion of the pa­tient,” said Estrada, who has writ­ten a blog with her right in­dex fin­ger — the only fin­ger that she can still move.

MARTIN ME­JIA/AP

Ana Estrada, who is al­most fully par­a­lyzed by a ter­mi­nal ill­ness, is cam­paign­ing for the right to end her life.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.