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Vatican urges rethink in right-to-die case

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Author Topic: Vatican urges rethink in right-to-die case  (Read 44 times)
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« on: February 08, 2009, 02:43:38 pm »

Court rules man can let daughter die

Italy's top court has authorised a father to disconnect the feeding tube which has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years, removing the last legal hurdle in a landmark right-to-die case that has split the country.

Eluana Englaro, who is now 37, has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in northern Italy since a 1992 car crash.

Her father Beppino Englaro has been battling his way through Italy's courts to seek an end to the life support for more than 10 years.

"This confirms that the rule of law still applies in this country," he said after the verdict.

The Cassation Court rejected as "inadmissible" an appeal by state prosecutors against a July ruling by a lower tribunal in Milan, which had also authorised the removal of the tube - the first time a court in predominantly Catholic Italy had allowed the withdrawal of food and water from a comatose patient.

"It's the gravest of decisions, involving an attack on life," said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

He told Vatican radio that the verdict effectively justified euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

Pro-euthanasia activists hailed the verdict as historic, but political leaders were split over the case, with several Catholic lawmakers criticising it.

"The Cassation Court is authorising the first murder by the state," said Luca Volonte of the Union of Christian Democrats.

Mara Carfagna, Equal Opportunities Minister in the centre-right government, said removing the feeding tube amounted to killing the woman.

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

The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state and was allowed to die in 2005 after a long court battle.

Italian media reports said Englaro's father had already identified a hospice willing to remove the feeding tube, after being turned down by health centres in several regions of Italy. Medical experts said it could take up to two weeks for Eluana to die once life support was removed, but that she would feel no pain.

Vatican urges rethink in right-to-die case

The Vatican and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi piled pressure on Italy's president to change his mind and order that a comatose woman be kept alive in a right-to-die case that has split the mainly Catholic country.

President Giorgio Napolitano has refused to sign a decree by Berlusconi's government which circumvented a high court ruling and ordered doctors to resume force-feeding the woman, who has been in a coma since a car crash in 1992.

In a rare clash with the president, the Vatican publicly sided with Berlusconi on the case, urging Napolitano to reconsider the decree and keep Eluana Englaro alive.

"I think the government is doing everything possible to save Eluana's life," Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican's health minister, told Italia 1 television on Saturday.

"We ask the Lord that the president of the republic can reconsider ... and find a way to reconcile this decree with the Italian constitution," he said.

Doctors began withdrawing food from 38-year-old Englaro on Friday in line with a ruling by Italy's highest court to allow her to die, as requested by her father.

Hours later, Berlusconi's cabinet issued an emergency decree ordering them to resume feeding the woman, but Napolitano said the measure was unconstitutional because it overruled the country's top judges and refused to sign it.

Analysts said Berlusconi, who won a landslide election last year, was using the highly emotional case to concentrate power in his hands by weakening the head of state and the courts.

"He is trying to reduce the power of the courts and the residual powers of the president, and he already has control of both houses of parliament," said James Walston, professor of Italian politics at the American University of Rome.

"If he succeeds, it's a form of coup. He is basically changing the Italian constitution. And he is doing this with the support of the Vatican, which is a strong ally."

Berlusconi said on Saturday a letter by Napolitano explaining his opposition to the decree paved the way for euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

"I had sincerely hoped that the president would distance himself from a judicial stance that we do not accept," he said.

He later said the constitution needed "clarifying".

The centre-left opposition has backed Napolitano, a former communist whose powers are largely symbolic.

Even one of Berlusconi's closest allies, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini, said he was deeply concerned about the clash between the prime minister and the head of state.

Berlusconi is now hoping to rush through parliament, where he has a comfortable majority, a draft bill barring doctors from stopping nutrition to comatose patients.

Englaro's case has been compared to that of Terri Schiavo, the American woman who was allowed to die in 2005 after a long legal battle.

Englaro's father has battled his way through Italy's courts for more than 10 years, saying that, before the accident, she had stated her wish not to be kept alive artificially.

On Saturday he invited Berlusconi and Napolitano to visit her, so they could see for themselves her condition.

This week he took her to a new hospice which has agreed to stop nutrition, after several clinics turned him down fearing retaliation.

Medical experts say it could take around two weeks for Englaro to die. Most say she would feel no pain.

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Laughter is the best medicine, unless you've got a really nasty case of syphilis, in which case penicillin is your best bet.

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