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Englaro family/AP
Eluana Englaro

Italian Region Must Allow Eluana Englaro to Die

January 27, 2009 12:29 PM
by Denis Cummings
An Italian court ruled that the government of Lombardy must provide a clinic for Eluana Englaro, a 38-year-old woman in a vegetative state, to die.

Lombardy Must Provide Clinic for Englaro to Die

A regional Italian court ruled Monday that the Lombardy region government is required to provide a clinic that will remove the feeding tubes of Eluana Englaro. The Lombardy government has refused to designate a clinic even after Eluana’s father, Beppino Englaro, won a definitive ruling in November giving him the right to let his daughter die.

Eluana has been treated in a clinic in Lecco, a city in Lombardy, since a 1992 accident left her in a vegetative state. Her father has been fighting since 1999 for the right to let her die, and in July a Milan court ruled in his favor. In November, Italy’s highest court allowed the decision to stand.

The Lombardy health authority had issued a directive in September forbidding Lombardy clinics from removing Eluana’s life support. Carlo Lucchina, head of the health authority, said that doctors who would breach “professional duties and obligations” if they were to let Eluana die.

A clinic in the city of Udine offered to perform the procedure, but it pulled the offer after Italian Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi said it was “illegal,” according to Italian news agency ANSA. A second Udine clinic, the Quiete Clinic, will decide in the next two weeks whether it is prepared to perform the procedure and the governor of Piedmont said that her region would allow Eluana to die “if it were asked.”

Background: Euthanasia in Italy

Laws in Italy regarding euthanasia are contradictory and controversial; direct euthanasia is expressly forbidden, but a patient does have the right to refuse treatment. Italians are split as to whether the right to refuse treatment should be granted when it leads to the death of a patient.

In 2006, a debate about euthanasia was sparked by Piergiorgio Welby, a terminally ill patient who suffered from muscular dystrophy and needed a respirator to keep him alive. In September, he sent a video letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano asking for the right to die. Welby’s case was taken to court and debated in Parliament, but no clear decision could be reached.

On Dec. 20, Dr. Mario Riccio fulfilled Welby’s request, sedating him and removing the respirator. Welby died 40 minutes after the respirator was removed; Riccio was arrested, but was later cleared of euthanasia charges. “The case of Piergiorgio Welby is not a case of euthanasia,” said Riccio, according to the International Herald Tribune. “It's a case of refusing treatment.”

Italian courts have called for the legislature to create clearer laws regarding euthanasia. The Radical Party has pushed hard for laws allowing limited forms of euthanasia, but right-wing and Catholic politicians resisted it. The church has a strong position against euthanasia, believing that humans cannot determine life and death.

“Their freedom does not extend to the ending of their own lives. Euthanasia and suicide are both a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death,” writes the BBC. However, the church has said that it is “morally acceptable to refuse extraordinary and aggressive medical means to preserve life,” according to the BBC.

Related Topic: Terri Schiavo

The Englaro case has been compared to the case of Terri Schiavo, an American woman in a persistent vegetative state who became the center of a right-to-die debate in 2005. Her husband asked doctors to remove her feeding tube, but her family took the case to court.

The case became national news, and politicians and activists from across the country argued the case. In March 2005, after seven years of bitter legal battles, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. She died March 31, nearly two weeks after the tube was removed.

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