Almost completely paralyzed by a terminal illness, 42-year-old 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.
“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 inspired by pre-Inca art. 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.
Like everything in Estrada’s life, the campaign is strewn with obstacles. No member of Peru’s legislature has taken up her cause. In addition Abortion and homosexual 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 Guti?rrez said. “Her case won’t change the law, but it opens a path,” he said.
“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.