Kai Sotto

Argentina sex-change, ‘right-to-die’ laws make waves

Agence France-Presse
Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, created a fresh stir this week by making sex-change operations and end-of-life decisions by relatives a legal right

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AFP) – Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, created a fresh stir this week by making sex-change operations and end-of-life decisions by relatives a legal right.

The measures, a first in the region, were made possible thanks to a weak conservative opposition and a favorable public opinion in the city.

One of the bills passed by the Argentine Congress allows transvestites and transgender people to choose how their sex is reported in legal documents, including identification cards, drivers’ licenses and passports.

The “dignified death” law, for its part, grants more power to the terminally ill and their families to refuse treatment and life support. It expressly forbids the use of euthanasia, however.

Senator Sonia Escudero of the ruling Justicialist Party said the measures, coming two years after the predominantly Catholic country allowed same-sex marriage, “are a reaffirmation of autonomy and individual rights.”

“We are no longer being relegated to the pathological, the criminal, and can finally have our rights recognized,” said psychologist Maria Eva Rossi, a 45-year-old transvestite who teaches in the eastern port city of Bahia Blanca.

The small Argentine transvestite community, which numbers about 22,000 people, only has a life expectancy of 35 years — compared to an average of 75.5 years, according to the world bank.

More than 90 percent of transvestites have gone into prostitution, with many lacking a formal education after being forced to leave school very early.

Selva Herbon supports the right-to-die law, hoping it can bring a dignified end to the short life of her daughter Camila, who has been in a coma since she was born three years ago and shows no brain activity or other vital signs.

“All we want is peace for Camila and our family. Because right now, it’s like death all the time and it’s very painful.”

But how can a country like Argentina, with a long conservative tradition and 91 percent of its 40 million inhabitants calling themselves Catholic, have pushed a liberal agenda so far?

“First of all, Peronism was not born as an ideology but as a movement. It was a reflection of the times,” explained literary and cultural critic Beatriz Sarlo.

The ruling party is Peronist (Justicialist), and the political movement rests on three main ideals: social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty.

It is the same party that implemented social welfare in the 1940s, privatizations in the 1990s and is now promoting a wave of nationalizations and advances in individual rights.

The ruling party has a wide majority in both chambers of Congress and no opposition has materialized solidly since the 2001 economic crisis that unseated the Peronists.

The Catholic Church has also lost much ground against the late Nestor Kirchner, who ruled from 2003 to 2007, and his wife, who was reelected to a four-year term in 2011.

In addition, Argentine public opinion is largely “urban, which allows Argentina to adopt laws that would be impossible elsewhere,” Sarlo said. “In France and in other countries, public opinion has its roots in rural communities.”

Argentina’s urban population, which accounted for 70 percent of the total in 1970, jumped to nearly 90 percent in 2001, according to the latest official data available.

Most marriages between same-sex couples were celebrated in the major cities: Buenos Aires (1,240), the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area (1,160), Santa Fe (397), Cordoba (345) and Mendoza (320)

In the midst of this urban population, rights groups can make their voices heard more easily — and enjoy government backing.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Uruguay, Mexico City, the Mexican state of Coahuila and the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul allow civil unions between people of the same sex.

Belgium and the Netherlands were the first countries to legalize euthanasia in 2002. – Indalecio Alvarez, Agence France-Presse