After spending months in a hospital’s intensive care unit four years ago to treat her incurable and debilitating illness, Ana Estrada decided that at some point she would want to die before it got worse.
Estrada, 43, is bed-ridden with a condition that has atrophied her muscles since puberty. She does not want to commit suicide and her body is already very weak.
But under Peruvian law it would be a crime to help her die. Both assisted suicide and the act of killing a terminally-ill patient, called “compassionate murder,” are punished with prison time.
Now Estrada is suing the state, hoping a judge will let her die, what she calls “death with dignity.”
“I contemplated doing it illegally,” Estrada told Reuters on Friday from her bed, where she was helped by a nurse.
“But there was risk … because I cannot let someone help me die. I cannot ask a relative to commit a crime.”
In this deeply Catholic country, where abortion and gay marriage remain illegal, Estrada and her lawyers see the fight to allow her to die as a first step to legalize euthanasia in Peru. The battle to die, Estrada said, has energized her life.
Euthanasia is not allowed in many countries, and the Catholic Church remains a staunch opponent. In Latin America, Colombia has allowed it under certain conditions.
Estrada has lived since her teenage years with polymyositis, an inflammatory disease that atrophies her muscles and has no cure. She is bed-ridden and breathes most of the time through a ventilator, so her voice is reduced to a whisper.
Lawyers from Peru’s public ombudsman’s office have taken up Estrada’s case, arguing that not letting her choose to die is unconstitutional, violating her right to live with dignity. A constitutional court will now examine her case, which was filed last week.
“We mold the stories of our lives with our decisions, and it does not make sense that in the last chapter of our life we are not allowed to make the decision (to die),” Peru’s public ombudsman Walter Gutierrez said at a press conference on Friday.
Estrada’s case gained prominence from a blog where she wrote about her illness, which she typed out slowly, letter by letter as her muscles lost strength. She is not getting better and most of the time cannot speak.
She does not know when she will want to die, only that her condition will keep worsening and she would like to end her life when she can no longer bear it.
“Why death with dignity? Because I want to avoid the suffering,” Estrada said. “But most of all because this is about how I live my life, about liberty. I do not feel free right now. I don’t have the freedom to choose over my own body.”