Italian Court Rules Lombardy Regional Government Must Kill Eluana Englaro

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 27, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italian Court Rules Lombardy Regional Government Must Kill Eluana Englaro

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 27
, 2009

Milan, Italy ( — A regional court has issued a new ruling in the ongoing saga over the life and death of Eluana Englaro. The Lombardy court ruling that the government of the region must provide a clinic that will remove Eluana Englaro’s feeding tube resulting in a drawn-out painful starvation and dehydration death.

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

After that, officials in Milan, the capital of the Lombardy region where Englaro is hospitalized, has since barred hospitals under its control from carrying out the decision.

On Monday, the Lombardy Regional Court said the Lombardy government was wrong to issue a directive forbidding Lombardy clinics from removing Eluana’s feeding tube. Carlo Lucchina, head of the health authority, said that doctors who would breach “professional duties and obligations” if they were to let Eluana die.

Today, a regional government official said it would not comply with the court order.

”At least for the moment we do not intend to comply with the instructions of the sentence’ because the Court’s evaluations appear unfounded to us," the government said. "I believe that this can easily be recognized by anyone who looks at the sentence from a legal point of view."

Government officials said that while some doctors believe Englaro is in a vegetative state, "Nobody is in a position to say that this state is irreversible."

Several other regions had offered to help Englaro’s father take her life, but changed their minds when Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi pressured them to reserve their positions. Sacconi warned that hospitals receiving government funds would face consequences for killing the disabled woman.

Recently, a group of more than 700 doctors in Italy signed their names to a letter supporting Eluana Englaro’s right to life.

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.

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 patients are 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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