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Terminally Ill San Diego Woman Plans To Take Advantage Of Aid-In-Dying Law

Video by Katie Schoolov

Eurika Strotto has always led an active life.

Growing up in South Africa, Eurika played field hockey for her high school and college teams. She also became a judo champion.

GUEST:

Kenny Goldberg, health reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

For most people, death is an unplanned event. But not for San Diegan Eurika Strotto, who plans to take her own life just after California's End of Life Option Act takes effect in June.

So her wife, Nita, wasn’t surprised that when it came time to remodel their University Heights home, Eurika did most of the work herself — starting with the kitchen.

“She decided she wanted to knock out the load-bearing wall, but we had to leave the post," Nita Strotto said. "So she figured out, well, why don’t we just put the post in the middle of the bar counter, and it ended up looking really good.”

Then Eurika tackled a bathroom.

“And she actually, herself, tore out all the old bathroom, and then rebuilt the walls up to the sheetrock," Nita said.

It was during this project in 2013 that Eurika suddenly had problems with one of her feet.

"We really thought that it was just a sprain, or some sort of weakness thing," Nita said. "We finished the bathroom, and got married. And then a week later she was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).”

When we first profiled Eurika last fall, she was living in a wheelchair. But she had no trouble breathing.

These days, because her diaphragm muscles are so weak, Eurika needs a machine to help her breathe most of the time. The way she figures, it won’t be long before she’ll lose the ability to swallow.

“This advance directive states, I’m choosing to self-administer medication to bring about my peaceful and humane death under the California Aid-in-Dying Act, end-of-life option ..."

Photo caption: Eurika Strotto, left, and Dr. Sunita Shailam discuss how California's aid-in-...

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Eurika Strotto, left, and Dr. Sunita Shailam discuss how California's aid-in-dying law will work, Oct. 26, 2015.

The Strottos listen intently as Eurika's physician, Dr. Sunita Shailam, fills a requirement of the new law by reading them a statement that Eurika will have to sign before she can get a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs. Sitting in Shailam's office, the couple hold hands as the family medicine doctor describes the different medications Strotto will be advised to take on that final day: an anti-nausea drug, an anti-anxiety pill, and then a handful of barbiturates crushed up and dissolved in a glass of water.

Eurika was planning to take advantage of California’s End of Life Option Act as soon as it went into effect. But some close friends are getting married June 11.

“The law takes effect the ninth. And then, ah, well, if it wasn’t ... if it wasn’t for their wedding," she sobbed, "I probably would have exercised my right sooner. But I don’t want to spoil their wedding.”

Right after that, Eurika said she’ll fill the prescription, and take her own life.

However, it won’t be all doom and gloom until the final moment. After all, she and Nita still have a lot of living to do.

There’s a trip to Morro Bay. Some dinners with friends and family. Sure, they won’t be able to do everything they’ve wanted to do. But who does?

Photo caption: Juanita and Eurika Strotto hold hands, Oct. 26, 2015.

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Juanita and Eurika Strotto hold hands, Oct. 26, 2015.

Nita said they never really talked about death before Eurika was diagnosed with ALS. Since then, the topic has been unavoidable.

“And it’s weird, how it hasn’t diminished the beauty of life at all," Nita said. "In fact, if anything, it’s highlighted how awesome our lives have been, independently and together.”

Nita said even though her father is dying in an assisted living center, she just doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with that right now.

“I’m full-time taking on the passing of my life partner, my wife, the love of my life, my best friend," Nita said. "And it’s really becoming close to the end now, and I’m still not really thinking about her dying. I’m thinking about her being alive right now and in the living room. And that that’s where I want to be.”

So that’s where they’re spending a lot of their remaining time together — in the living room in the house that Eurika remodeled herself.

"Yeah, I’ve done a lot in my life, and we’ve done a lot since we’ve been together," Eurika said. "And I don’t regret any of it. It’s been cut a little short," she cried. "But it’s been fantastic.”

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