Thursday, July 10, 2008

In a historical ruling, an Italian court authorises the removal of a woman's feeding tube

The International Herald Tribune reports:

Milan: An Italian court for the first time authorised a man on Wednesday to remove the feeding tube which has kept his daughter alive for 16 years, but the Vatican condemned the ruling as justifying euthanasia.

Eluana Englaro has been in a vegetative state and receiving food and water artificially at a hospital in the northern Italian town of Lecco since a 1992 car crash. Her father has been seeking an end to the life support for nearly 10 years.

The Milan appeals court said it had been proven 37-year-old Englaro's coma was irreversible and that before the accident she had stated her preference to die rather than being kept alive artificially.

"I feel that I can now free the most splendid creature I have ever known," Beppino Englaro, Eluana's father, said in an interview posted on Italian newspaper La Repubblica's website.

"She simply wanted to be left to die, (she wanted) nature to take its course."

Euthanasia is illegal in Italy and is strongly opposed by the Vatican.

"A grave verdict," Vatican radio said on its website. "No court had ever authorised this type of request," it said.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican department which advises the Church on bio-ethical issues, said he was saddened and surprised by the ruling, which he said justified "de facto euthanasia."

Last September, the Vatican said it was wrong to stop administering food and water to patients in a vegetative state even if they would never regain consciousness.

The verdict, hailed by pro-euthanasia activists as historic, divided Italy's political leaders and was criticised by several members of the ruling centre right.

Health Ministry undersecretary Eugenia Roccella said it amounted to a "death sentence".

The Catholic Church refused a religious burial for Piergiorgio Welby, a man who campaigned for euthanasia as he lay paralysed with muscular dystrophy. He died in Rome in December 2006 after a doctor agreed to unplug his respirator.

The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state and was allowed to die after a long court battle.

Beppino Englaro could now ask doctors to remove the tube immediately or he could wait 60 days for state prosecutors to appeal.