Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case” even more like its U.S. precedent

February 6, 2009

UPDATE: Eluana Englaro died on Monday Feb. 9.

What’s been called “Italy’s Terry Schiavo case” is starting to resemble its U.S. precedent in more ways than one. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ordered doctors on Friday not to disconnect the feeding tubes that the country’s top appeals court had ruled could be removed. Doctors had began withdrawing them on Friday before the order came from Rome.

Eluana Englaro, 38, has been in a vegetative state since a car crash in 1992. Her  case has looked much like that of Schiavo, the American who spent 15 years in a vegetative state and was allowed to die in 2005 after a long court battle.

(Photo:Eluana Englaro in an undated family photo)

“Until we have a law about end-of-life issues, nutrition and hydration, because they are a form of vital life sustenance, cannot be suspended under any circumstances by those who are care-givers of people who are not self-sufficient,” Berlusconi said after making the case resemble the Schiavo drama even more by intervening to stop Englaro’s tubes from being removed. In the Schiavo case, President George Bush also stepped in at a late stage to try to block a court decision to disconnect her.

The cabinet acted in defiance of Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano, who was opposed to dealing with the issue through a decree and has the power to block it. But Berlusconi said that if that happened he would call an emergency session of parliament, where he has a comfortable majority, to enact a law.

Catholic politicians, mostly in the centre right, have said that not feeding Englaro amounts to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy, and had urged the government to intervene.

As in the Schiavo case, the Milan court that ruled on Englaro back in November said it was convinced that her condition was irreversible and that she would prefer to die rather than be kept alive artificially. Do you think those criteria are enough to allow doctors to remove the nutrition and hydration tubes?

(Photo: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 20 Dec 2008/Remo Casilli)
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