Court allows cut-off in Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case”
Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case” has ended with the country’s top appeals court allowing a father to disconnect the feeding tube that has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years. Eluana Englaro, now 37, has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in northern Italy since a 1992 car crash. The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state before a long and very public dispute ended in 2005 with a court decision allowing her husband to have her feeding tube disconnected.
As in the Schiavo case, the Milan court that ruled on the case said it was convinced Englaro would prefer to die rather than be kept alive artificially. State prosecutors appealed that decision to the Cassation Court, the highest appeals court in Italy, and it was the Cassation Court’s decision on Nov. 13 that definitively settled the case.
(Photo:Eluana Englaro in an undated family photo)
This was the first time such a ruling has been made and upheld in Italy, where the influential Roman Catholic Church is implacably opposed to ending feeding and hydrating of patients in a vegetative state. Vatican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan called the decision a “monstrous and inhuman murder” .
When the Schiavo and Englaro cases began, the lines in this ethical dilemma were fairly clearly drawn. On one side were those who said a persistent vegetative state (PVS) was enough to declare a patient effectively dead and disconnect feeding tubes. On the other were those, like the cardinal above, who said that patient was still alive. In 2006, brain scans revealed that a woman in PVS after suffering devastating brain damage in a car crash could imagine playing tennis or walking around her home when doctors asked her to do this.
Do those brain scans prove that PVS patients are still effectively alive? Should courts take that into account?
P.S. According to David Waters at the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, a similar case is going on now in Washington where a hospital wants to stop treatment for a PVS boy but his Orthodox Jewish parents reject their standard of brain death as proof of death and want to wait until his heart stops.
Here’s a video from July when the Milan court ruled tht Englaro’s feeding tubes could be removed: