LIMA -- A Peruvian judge, in an historic ruling, has ordered euthanasia decriminalized in the specific case of Ana Estrada, the first person in Peru to publicly demand the right to select the time to die with dignity, but the judge refused to allow a protocol to be prepared to govern similar cases.
The ruling, made public on Thursday, orders the Health Ministry and the Health Social Security (EsSalud) agency to respect and abide by the 44-year-old Estrada's request, given that she suffers from polymyositis, a degenerative and incurable disease that weakens her muscles and currently forces her to spend most of the time in bed.
With the ruling, the doctors who aid Estrada in carrying out her request to die with dignity, whenever she ultimately decides to end her life, will be exempt from punishment, although euthanasia is punishable in Peru with up to three years in prison as so-called "homicidio piadoso" ("mercy killing").
The ruling by Judge Jorge Luis Ramirez, with the 11th Constitutional court in Lima, could be appealed by the Health Ministry and by EsSalud, whose attorneys oppose Estrada's request, claiming that to allow such a death to come about euthanasia would have to be enshrined in law by Congress.
However, the Ombudsman's Office, which has sponsored Estrada's lawsuit, has already anticipated they will have to turn to the Constitutional Court if the current ruling is overturned.
The judge's decision establishes a series of deadlines by which the Health Ministry and EsSalud must prepare how to attend to Estrada's euthanasia request.
First, within seven days they must create three medical committees - with the identities of the physicians comprising them kept secret.
Two committees will be within EsSalud, one to prepare the administrative and technical elements of a protocol to fulfill Estrada's request for a dignified death and the other to actually plan how to carry out the euthanasia procedure.
The Health Ministry will create the third committee that will approve the plan prepared by EsSalud.
Once all the protocols are approved, EsSalud will have to carry out the euthanasia procedure within 10 days from the moment Estrada formally expresses her wish to die.
During the court hearing on the case, Estrada made clear that she wants to live, and what she is seeking is only the freedom to select the time when she can die with dignity when the circumstances of her illness have made her life unbearable and undignified.
The only element of Estrada's request the judge refused to agree to was ordering the Health Ministry to prepare a directive for other similar cases.
The ruling constitutes a step toward legalizing euthanasia in Peru so that it can be made accessible to the whole population, something that could be accomplished in a bill recently presented in Congress and inspired by Estrada's case.
So far, just six countries around the world have legalized euthanasia - Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Spain, The Netherlands and Luxemburg - although Chile is close to joining that group with a bill that is awaiting ratification in the Senate.