Alzheimer's struck early in the case of Guillermina Freniche. She was 64 years old, and about to retire. Guillermina is 79 now and still with us, although she can do nothing for herself and her daughter Astrid Jurado and son Ricardo have been fighting for her right to a dignified death. An emotional thread posted by Astrid on Twitter went viral and the hashtag #FreeGuille became a trending topic.
Guillermina Freniche was one of the first female entrepreneurs on the Costa del Sol at a time when business was deemed a masculine field. She founded Gala Decoración and was the secretary to the first democratic council in Torremolinos, with Miguel Escalona. "She always had a Ducados cigarette in her lips, she drove a red Mini when women in Spain didn't drive and she divorced when women didn't divorce," says Astrid. She left Spain and the misery of the post-war years at the age of 19 and went to Britain, and also lived for a while in Switzerland, where she studied in the evenings.
Guillermina was always a fighter. She can't fight any more, but Astrid and Ricardo are battling the justice system on her behalf. "She was refused palliative care, because her brain has been destroyed by a neurodegenerative illness and not by cancer. She can't complain, but we can," say Astrid, who lives in Madrid and visits as often as she can, and Ricardo, who is running the family business. They appealed against the decision but it was turned down and the court ordered that Guillermina be fed through a nasal-gastric tube to keep her alive. Astrid is angry that "a judge and forensic specialist who don't know my mother, have never spoken to her, can make decisions about her life". In the past fortnight, Guillermina has had to be taken four times from the care home to the Emergency Department to have the naso-gastric tube which was "forced on her by a court" put back in place.
The thread and hashtag on Twitter have received huge messages of support. "I realise I can't answer them all, but we are so grateful," says Astrid. Meanwhile, there are one million signatures on a petition to the government demanding "a law for dignified death, in which no religion can interfere".
There has been some good news. Guillermina has just been moved out of the home and into the palliative care unit at Cudeca, as the family had been requesting for so long. It is one step forward, they say, because at least she is where she wanted to be. She is still being forcibly fed through the tube, but administered by the Cudeca palliative staff, "so at least she is not suffering", says Ricardo, who is critical of the attitude of the care home towards him because he refused to sign the release form for his mother, excluding the home from all responsibility, before his lawyer had a chance to see it. "But at least she is out of there, which is what we wanted," he says.