Friday, July 11, 2008

Italian Court Permits Removal Of Woman's Life Support

(previously published here at

An appeals court judge in Milan, Italy ruled yesterday in favor of a father's request to remove life support, in the form of a feeding tube, from his daughter, who has been in a coma for 16 years, the ANSA news agency reported.

Eluana Englaro has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in the northern Italian town of Lecco since a car accident in 1992, surviving on liquid food and water delivered via a feeding tube. Her father, Beppino, has sought to end her life support for nearly a decade, since 1999.

The Milan appeals court's decision was made based on evidence provided by Mr. Englaro proving both that Ms. Englaro's condition is "irreversible" and that before the accident, she had clearly stated her preference to die naturally rather than be kept alive artificially.

"I feel that I can now free the most splendid creature I have ever known," said Mr. Englaro in an interview posted on Italian newspaper La Reppublica's Web site.

Still, yesterday's ruling could still be appealed further to Italy's highest appeals court, the Cassation. Mr. Englaro can now either ask doctors to remove the feeding tube immediately or wait the 60-day period allowed for state prosecutors to appeal.

The decision continues to fuel debate in a country where the Catholic Church opposes euthanasia on the grounds that life is sacred, but where Italian law also upholds a patient's right to refuse care.

In a case that garnered international attention, the Catholic Church refused to allow a religious funeral for Piergiorgio Welby, a poet and writer paralyzed by muscular dystrophy, who campaigned for euthanasia while hospitalized in Rome until his death in December 2006 after a doctor agreed to unplug his respirator.

This case harkens back to the Terri Schiavo case in 2005, where the Florida woman relied on a feeding tube after suffering brain damage and going into a vegetative state. Years of legal battles that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court ended with the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube and her death in March 2005.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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