On July 9, a civil appeals court in Milan authorised the suspension of the life support system of a 35-year-old woman who has been in a coma for the past 16 years. The landmark decision has sparked heated debate over whether removing Eluana Englaro's artificial feeding tube would be considered an act of euthanasia.
Englaro has been in a vegetative state since a car accident in 1992 when she was 19 years old. The Milan appeals court made the controversial ruling based on proof that Englaro was in an irreversible coma, stating its decision was ‘inevitable given the extraordinary duration of a state of permanent vegetation', and having established her ‘vision of life, irreconcilable with the total and irreversible loss of her mental faculties.'
For Englaro's father, Beppino Englaro, this is the close of a long legal battle. He has been seeking to have her feeding tube removed since 1999, arguing that before the accident she had said that she would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. He hailed the court decision: ‘This is a victory for legal rights, at long last the end of the worst nightmare that any human being can experience. The judges made a courageous decision. Now at last we can set Eluana free', he said.
However, the Vatican has strongly disapproved of the court ruling. Monsignor Fisichella, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, said it was similar to ‘an act of euthanasia', while chief of the Bioethics Committee of Rome's Catholic University hospital, Adrian Pessina, stressed the ‘gravity of the decision', which legitimizes euthanasia: ‘Human consciousness does not define personal identity but rather simply manifests it. For this reason, the care of persons in a vegetative state is a duty.'
Eluana's father, who is also her legal guardian, can ask doctors to remove his daughter's feeding tubes immediately or wait until the 60-day appeal option for the state has expired.