Italian Clinic Offering to Kill Eluana Englaro in Euthanasia Bid Changes Course

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 19, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italian Clinic Offering to Kill Eluana Englaro in Euthanasia Bid Changes Course

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 19
, 2009

Rome, Italy ( — An Italian clinic that offered to help Eluana Englaro’s father take her life after he won the right from courts to euthanize her has backed down. The news follows the release of a letter signed by more than 700 Italian doctors and medical professionals who oppose ending her life prematurely.

The government-funded medical clinic in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region had offered to help kill Englaro after no hospitals or medical centers in the Lombardy region, where she lives, would pull her feeding tube.

However, the facility has backtracked following the issue of a guideline from Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi saying the removing of her feeding tube would be illegal if done following a medical transfer.

The clinic told the ANSA news agency that it was forced to withdraw the euthanasia offer following the new order.

"If the clinic were to offer hospitality to Eluana for the court ruling (to be carried out), the minister could take steps that would put the running of the clinic, and the jobs of 300 people, at risk," it explained in a statement.

Clinic officials are concerned that Sacconi could pull the public funding it enjoys if it follows through on its promise to remove Englaro’s feeding tube.

ANSA indicates Beppino Englaro, who has fought for more than a decade to take his daughter’s life, understood the reasons for the clinic backing down and said he "respected" its decision.

The Cassation Court in November confirmed a Milan appeals court decision that said he could he could remove her feeding tube.

The letter the doctors recently released 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.

Meanwhile, 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. However, he is having trouble finding one.

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 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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