Hundreds of Doctors Speak Out for Eluana Englaro, Father Still Wants Her Dead

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 14, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Hundreds of Doctors Speak Out for Eluana Englaro, Father Still Wants Her Dead

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 14
, 2009

Rome, Italy ( — A group of more than 700 doctors in Italy have signed their names to a letter supporting Eluana Englaro’s right to life. Her father won the right from court to take her life by pulling out her feeding tube, but a standoff has ensued following the hospital where she was treated refusing to do so.

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.

In November, the highest court in Italy granted Englaro’s father the right to kill her via euthanasia by removing her feeding tube.

The letter says that physicians have a duty to help people who can’t feed themselves and that removing her food and water would go against the World Medical Association’s 1964 Helsinki declaration.

The Italian nuns at the Blessed Luigi Talamoni clinic in Lecco, Lombardy who are caring for Englaro refuse to withdraw her food and medical care. Englaro’s father is awaiting further court ruling on whether he can move her to a facility that will take her life.

Alison Davis of No Less Human, a British pro-life group involved in bioethics issues, commented on the new letter.

"It is heartening that over 700 Italian doctors have signed the open letter stating that doctors have a ‘professional and scientific duty’ to provide hydration and nutrition to vulnerable patients, which would save the life of Eluana Englaro. This is a rare case of doctors going against a civil appeals court," she said.

"The tragedy behind the whole case, however, is that Eluana’s life continues to hang in the balance, and that her father continues to want her killed by dehydration to death," she added.

Davis says more people in the medical community need to speak up on Englaro’s behalf and for those patients like her who can’t make their own medical decisions.

"Not only 700 doctors but every doctor in every country should be speaking out against this barbaric method of killing disabled people who are unable to communicate, which is becoming increasingly common throughout the world," she said. "We call on all pro-lifers, but especially doctors, to speak out in defense of the most vulnerable of human lives."

The nuns 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.

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 Terri Schiavo’s life over the course of 13 days four years ago.

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.

Last 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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