Hospital Refuses to Remove Eluana Englaro’s Feeding Tube After Court Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 18, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Hospital Refuses to Remove Eluana Englaro’s Feeding Tube After Court Ruling

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 18
, 2008

Rome, Italy ( — The hospital where Eluana Englaro had received medical care and treatment before an Italian court ruled that her father could take her life refuses to pull her feeding tube. No doctor and none of the staff at the hospital in Lecco have agreed to kill the woman who is considered Italy’s version of Terri Schiavo.

Last week, the highest court in Italy granted her father the right to kill her via euthanasia by removing her feeding tube.

Englaro has been in what doctors term a so-called vegetative state following a car accident and has received food and water via a feeding tube.

However, the Italian nuns at the Blessed Luigi Talamoni clinic who are caring for her refuse to comply with the court ruling.

They are getting support from Roberto Formigoni, President of the Lombardy region, who, according to the London Times, has said any doctor who kills a patient by removing the feeding tube would face disciplinary action for "failing to honor commitments to the well-being of their patients."

The Times indicates medical officials from northern regions such as Piedmont and Friuli, where Englaro’s family is from, are also refusing to take her life.

Vladimiro Kosic, head of health for Friuli-Venezia Giulia, told the Times, "Our hospitals are places of life, not death."

Meanwhile, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, says he is hoping civil authorities will "change their minds" about allowing "a beloved creature of God" to be deprived of food and water.

Also, the government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi has attacked the court ruling and questioned the ability of judges to determine that her condition is "irreversible."

Both the government and Catholic officials are worried the Englaro decision will pave the way for a court ruling or legislation in the Italian parliament that would legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Some pro-life advocates are looking at the legal possibility of getting appointed as Eluana’s guardian, replacing the decision-making of her father, or taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

If the feeding tube is pulled, Englaro will be starved and dehydrated to death in the same painful manner that took Schiavo’s life over the course of 13 days four years ago.

The Court of Cassation rejected an appeal by prosecutors of a lower court ruling from July that allowed Beppino Englaro to kill his daughter. Beppino claimed Eluana had told him shortly before her accident that she had visited a comatose friend and said she didn’t want to be in the same condition.

Under Italian law, killing a patient via direct euthanasia with an overdose of drugs is illegal and patients have a right to refuse treatment, but the law doesn’t address cases like Englaro’s when the patient is unable to make their own medical decisions.

Responding to the ruling, Beppino told the ANSA news agency that the decision "confirms that we live under the rule of law" and he said he is happy the decade-long legal battle has come to a close.

Earlier this year, some of Italy’s leading neurologists said Englaro should not be killed and they questioned whether she is in a persistent vegetative state.

"She is not a person in coma, or a terminal patient, but a severely handicapped person in need of special basic care, as occurs in many other situations of serious injuries to parts of the brain that limit the capacity of communication and self-sustenance," they said, according to a Zenit report.

"A patient’s nutrition and hydration, even if assisted, cannot be confused with medical treatment; they have always constituted the fundamental elements of care, precisely because they are indispensable for every human being, whether healthy or sick," they went on to say.

"The tube through which nourishment is received does not alter this elementary truth; rather, it can be compared to a prosthesis or any other type of aid," they explained.

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