Italian Government Issues Order to Prevent Eluana Englaro’s Euthanasia Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 6, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italian Government Issues Order to Prevent Eluana Englaro’s Euthanasia Death

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 6
, 2009

Rome, Italy ( — The Italian government on Friday issued an emergency order to prevent the death of Eluana Englaro, the disabled woman whose case is similar to that of Terri Schiavo. Englaro has been comatose following an automobile accident and her father won a court order to take her life.

Earlier this week, Englaro was moved to a new medical facility that may honor her father’s wishes, granted in court, to have her killed.

However, the Italian government stepped in on Friday to save her life and issued an emergency decree to prevent the euthanasia from moving forward.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the Cabinet approved the decree at a meeting on Friday morning saying that food and water can’t be denied to patients.

"I would feel responsible for failing to come to the rescue of somebody whose life was in danger," Berlusconi said after the vote, according to an AP report.

He said government officials had to move quickly because staff at the new clinic where Englaro is being treated had planned to begin the process of starving her to death today. The staff planned to cut her food and water in half starting today and, after three days of partial starvation and dehydration, officials plan to remove the feeding tube.

Berlusconi said the vegetative state that Englaro has been diagnosed as being in can change and that patients like her have recovered.

The move came despite opposition from President Giorgio Napolitano, who had indicated he would not sign such an order if it had been passed by the nation’s parliament.

Normally, Napolitano has to sign any sort of order like this one and the move could lead to a political battle between him and Berlusconi.

Elio Sgreccia, a top official with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, told the ANSA news agency that Englaro "has the right to live."

"The political community must sustain her life with the means it has," Sgreccia said.

Health Undersecretary Eugenia Roccella supported the move and previously worried what depriving Englaro of food and water could do to her.

”It takes a long time to let a person die by removing food and water, but after four days the dehydration produces irreversible damage. We have very little time left (to stop this),” Roccella told ANSA.

Attorneys for Englaro’s father condemned the possible legislation the other day but admitted that it would likely half Englaro’s euthanasia death because they do not want to subject doctors to illegal actions.

The new order marks the second occasion on which the government has tried to save Englaro’s life. Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi prevented the transfer of Englaro once before to a clinic that would kill her.

The 37-year-old woman has been moved to the La Quiete clinic at Udine in the northeastern part of the nation. It’s a move that her father Beppino described as the “first step towards the liberation” of his daughter.

A group of pro-life advocates tried to prevent moving Englaro by standing and sitting in front of the ambulance leaving the clinic near Milan where she has been since an automobile accident left her in a coma in 1992.

They shouted “Eluana is living – don’t kill her.”

Amato De Monte, the anesthetist who accompanied Eluana in the ambulance has come under fire for comments he made to the RAI state television network saying that, "Eluana will not suffer because Eluana died 17 years ago."

Human Life International, Rome, says Ms Englaro’s death would lead to more such killings in Italy. Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro said, "We are not fighting for Eluana’s life because she has limited signs of consciousness but because of her dignity as a human being."

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.

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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