The right to live

Italian government attempts to nullify right-to-die ruling

Editorial Staff
February 12, 2009

The story of Eluana Englaro has touched the world. What began months ago as a heated national issue has turned into an international inquiry into the ethics of euthanasia.


The controversial case of the 39-year-old woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 17 years, has been the focus of fierce debate since Englaro's father, Beppe, first began his plight to end his daughter's life years ago. Although she can breathe on her own, she relies on an artificial feeding tube to survive.


After years of legal proceedings, a landmark right-to-die ruling in late 2008 gave Beppe Englaro the power to end his daughter's life. The groundbreaking ruling by Italy's Court of Cassation authorized the suspension of the life-support system.


However, the country's Catholic politicians and Vatican leaders, who believe that removing Eluana's life-support system constitutes an act of euthanasia, have fiercely condemned the court's ruling and have since been lobbying for support to stop Beppe Englaro.


Over the last two months, Beppe Englaro had been looking for a hospital that would accept his daughter and remove her feeding tube. His efforts were futile until a private clinic in Udine accepted her. On February 6, doctors began reducing her artificial feeding. They say she is likely to die within two weeks.


In response, a Vatican-led campaign quickly mounted and Italy's conservative government said it would swiftly pass an emergency decree to prevent the doctors from removing Eluana's feeding tube. At the same time, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano said he would not approve an emergency decree on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The decree cannot be put into effect without Napolitano's final approval.


Italy's president has repeatedly stressed that the best way to deal with the case is for parliament to pass a specific law on end-of-life issues. However, the emergency decree that was drawn up by Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government addresses only artificial feeding tube cases. The Italian premier says he will push the draft bill through parliament anyway, with or without Napolitano's approval.

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