A Peruvian court on Thursday ordered the government to respect the wishes of a polio-stricken woman to be allowed to die, a rare allowance for euthanasia in largely Catholic Latin America.
In the first such ruling for Peru, constitutional court judges ruled that the health ministry and social health insurance must “respect the decision” of 44-year-old Ana Estrada Ugarte “to end her life through the technical procedure of euthanasia.”
Estrada, a psychologist, has suffered from incurable and progressive polio since the age of 12, according to Peruvian media.
Largely paralyzed, she mainly spends her days in bed, requiring assistance even to go to the toilet.
“I am speechless, very excited, for me it is a pleasure, a huge joy that I am feeling,” Estrada told Peru’s RPP radio network after the ruling.
“What I have always been clear about is that when this moment arrives, which has now arrived, I will be free. This is what I’ve been fighting for all this time,” she added.
The ruling, published by the court via Twitter, describes euthanasia as “the action of a doctor to administer directly (orally or intravenously) a drug intended to end life.”
The ruling, which can still be appealed, is likely to stir controversy in Peru, a country where the majority of people are Catholic, a religion that rejects euthanasia as morally wrong.
The judges declared invalid an article of Peru’s penal code that prohibits assisted dying. They were ruling in a case brought by Peru’s ombudsman on Estrada’s behalf.
The court said denying her wish would violate her right to “dignity, autonomy, free choice” and protections against “cruel and inhuman treatment.”
Recently, Estrada told the Peru 21 newspaper that she needed help.
“My body keeps deteriorating. I’m losing more strength every day. I depend more and more on the ventilator, it exhausts me to swallow,” she said.
“I need a guarantee from the state so that I can choose when and under which conditions to die.”
– ‘Historic’ –
Among South and Central American countries, Colombia is the only one where euthanasia has been decriminalized, since 1997.
In Mexico, a patient or family member can ask for life not be prolonged by artificial means, while Uruguay’s Congress is discussing a euthanasia bill.
Percy Castillo, Peru’s associate ombudsman for human rights and people with disabilities, told AFP Thursday’s ruling was “historic because it recognizes a right, and that does not happen every day.”
Added ombudsman Walter Gutierrez, talking to Canal N, added: “Every human has the right to end their life because it is the last corner of freedom.”