HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, February 9, 2009

Italy's Divided Response to Eluana Englaro

Reuters has the latest news on the Italy's divided response to the request of the father of Eluana Englaro to disconnect her feeding tube.  Silvia Aloisi writes, 

Inspectors Monday visited an Italian clinic that has stopped feeding a comatose woman to check whether it was qualified to do so and let her die.  The conservative government, which wants the woman kept alive, has raised objections to the use of the facility as a place for 38-year-old Eluana Englaro, in a vegetative state since a 1992 car crash, to die.  "We must do everything to stop her death," Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi said. "This is clearly an illegal situation."

Doctors at the clinic in the northern city of Udine stopped feeding her Friday, in line with a ruling by Italy's top court that she could be allowed to die.   Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, backed by the Vatican, has been trying to block the implementation of the ruling, saying depriving Englaro of food amounts to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.  . . . .

The case has divided the mainly Catholic country, with daily demonstrations and sit-ins by those who favor letting her die and those who say it is tantamount to murder.  It has led to a constitutional crisis pitting Berlusconi against the head of state and sparked a debate about whether the Vatican, by siding openly with Berlusconi, was unduly interfering.  For the third day in succession, Pope Benedict indirectly referred to the case, telling the new Brazilian ambassador to the Vatican that "the sanctity of life must be safeguarded from conception to its natural end." . . .

Englaro's father battled his way through Italy's courts for 10 years to have her feeding tube disconnected, saying it was her wish not to be kept alive artificially.  Berlusconi issued an emergency decree of Friday ordering doctors to resume feeding the woman but it was rejected as unconstitutional by President Giorgio Napolitano.  Now the prime minister is pushing through parliament, where he has a large majority, a law that would ban withdrawing food from unconscious patients. The Senate looks set to pass the law Tuesday, while the lower house should vote the next day. 

Englaro's doctor, Carlo Alberto Defanti, said that besides the irreversible damage to her brain, she was in good physical condition and it could take two weeks with no food and water before her heart stopped.

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