HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Passing of Ms. Englaro

Ms. Englaro passed away today, three days after doctors at a private clinic reduced her nutrition intake.  The New York Times reports,

Italy190 The woman at the center of a right-to-die battle gripping Italy died Monday in a private clinic, ending a case that divided the nation and ignited a debate among Italian leaders and the Vatican. . . .

IDr. Carlo Alberto Defanti, a neurologist who followed her case for years, said she had died suddenly of “unexpected” causes, according to the Corriere della Sera, the Italian newspaper. As recently as Monday morning, doctors said Ms. Englaro was in stable condition. A court is expected to decide Tuesday whether an autopsy will be conducted, Italian news media said.

Ms. Englaro had been in a persistent vegetative state since a car accident in 1992. Her father fought repeatedly in court for the right to remove the tube, saying it was his daughter’s wish not to be kept alive artificially. The Catholic Church was vehemently opposed to removing Ms. Englaro’s feeding tube, saying it was tantamount to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy. . . .

On Friday, when Ms. Englaro’s feeding tube was to be withdrawn, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet introduced an emergency measure forbidding the removal. The decree circumvented a high court decision, and Mr. Berlusconi submitted it even though President Giorgio Napolitano had called it unconstitutional and damaging to the balance of powers in Italy. Mr. Napolitano said he would not sign the measure.  Instead, late Friday, the emergency measure was drafted into a bill, and the Senate was considering it Monday when Ms. Englaro’s death was announced.

Italy has no legislation on end-of-life issues and does not recognize living wills. Over the weekend, some Italians began using YouTube to post their own living wills.Members of Parliament are expected to decide Tuesday whether to continue debating the four-line bill, which states that “pending more comprehensive legislation” on such matters, “in no case” can feeding tubes be removed from patients unable to make the decision for themselves. . . .

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