Social Issues

Terminally ill Chilean woman waging battle for euthanasia rights

By Patricia Nieto Mariño

Santiago, Apr 14 (EFE).- A handful of individuals have led the struggle for euthanasia rights in different parts of the world, including Ramon Sampedro in Spain and Ana Estrada in Peru.

In Chile, Cecilia Heyder, a 54-year-old activist who suffers from metastatic cancer, lupus and a blood disorder, has been advocating for more than a decade for the enactment of dignified death laws in her homeland.

Her hopes are now focused on a vote scheduled for Wednesday in the lower house.

“I’m hopeful I’ll live to the see the right to a dignified death become law and be guaranteed to all as another human right,” Heyder told Efe.

She says her wheelchair is a “lifeline” because it allows her to make near-daily trips for the blood transfusions she needs to remain alive. What she doesn’t mention is that it also gives her the necessary mobility for speaking to the media and championing her cause.

In 2015, Heyder decided to stop treatment for breast cancer (her third cancer) because she “wanted to live.” But the discovery four years later of a illness that prevents her blood from clotting and causes severe pain forced her back into the hospital.

Since last December, her blood is said to be “unclottable” and her medical condition is listed as “terminal.”

“It’s not normal to have a nosebleed and not be able to stand up or go to eat something and vomit up blood. My joints tear internally and become inflamed. The pain is horrific and this isn’t living,” said Heyder, who has to take a dose of morphine every six hours and have three catheters inserted permanently.

Her story has received media coverage in Chile and helped erode taboos surrounding euthanasia in a country where the Catholic Church’s influence is deep-rooted.

“The state shouldn’t be able to tell us when we have to die. Enough with religion and the far right telling us what to do with our bodies and our lives,” Heyder said.

Before becoming ill, the activist had unsuccessfully worked to achieve legislative approval for euthanasia in 2006 and 2011. But the latest bill before the lower house now appears to have broad support.

If passed by the Chamber of Deputies and then the Senate, it would allow people with a terminal and incurable illness or a pathology that causes several physical pain or psychological suffering to receive assistance with ending their lives.

Chile could become the seventh country worldwide to decriminalize voluntary euthanasia and the second in Latin America after Colombia.

In Peru, meanwhile, a precedent for euthanasia was set in January when Estrada, a woman suffering from polymyositis (rare type of myopathy, or muscle disease, that causes inflammation and weakness of the muscles), won a unprecedented court ruling that has cleared the way for her to receive assistance with ending her life.

Heyder sought a similar solution when she filed a proceeding seeking protection of her constitutional rights last December. But that so-called “recurso de proteccion” was denied.

“There’s a legal vaccuum they don’t want to fill,” Heyder said. “If it’s legal in other countries, why not here? I don’t want to commit suicide or have to do illegal things, but I also don’t want to spend what’s left of my life being connected to machines. I only want dignity,” she said. EFE


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