Italy Remains Split on Right-to-Die and Euthanasia
A heated political debate has descended upon Italy after the death of Eluana Englaro, a woman who has become the centre of a fierce battle between goverment, church, and the wishes of her father to remove her life support equipment and allow her to pass away.
After removing Ms. Englaro's feeding tubes on Friday, the comatose patient passed away on Monday just as the Italian senate was about to debate an emergency bill designed to save her life. The bill, which would have outlawed the cessation of food and hydration to unconscious patients, would have been applicable to all future patients as well.
Italian papers are criticizing government officials for using Englaro's case to drum up support by appealing to the emotions of the divided public, and the struggle for power among politicians has the anti-euthanasia camp yelling "murderer." Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faults the President for not agreeing to an emergency decree put before him on Friday, which would have 'saved' Englaro's life:
"Eluana did not die a natural death, she was killed," he said, blaming President Giorgio Napolitano for blocking his emergency decree that would have forced doctors to resume feeding her.
"Napolitano made a serious mistake," Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.
The president had said the prime minister had acted unconstitutionally by attempting to overrule the courts, which had judged that Ms Englaro should be allowed to die, in accordance with her father's wishes.
Now the public is calling for clarification on end-of-life legislation - no easy task for a country that is squarely divided on whether euthanasia should be permitted and whether a patient reserves the right to die.
There is considerable worry that the opinions of the church, a prominent power in Catholic Italy, is influencing policy in this case:
"Life does not belong to the government and does not belong to the church," declared a group of well-known leftists, including author and academic Umberto Eco, in a statement Monday. They accused Berlusconi of wanting to subject citizens' rights to "the totalitarian will of the state and the church."
Doctors at the Udine clinic where Eluana was cared for may have faced arrest had the bill been passed prior to her passing.
The case has been likened to that of Terri Schiavo, an American woman who, much like Englaro, was in a persistent vegetative state. Schiavo also sparked heated controversy when her husband launched a legal effort to have her life support removed. Schiavo became the subject of a 7-year long ordeal, which eventually ended with the removal of her life support and her passing due to dehydration effects.
This 7-year time period was not without numerous appeals and interventions; Schiavo's parents opposed her euthanasia, claiming that she was actually still conscious; President Bush signed a highly publicized bill that disallowed the removal of her feeding tubes; and many other politicians and advocacy groups from both sides of the issue weighed in throughout the lengthy debate and appeals process.
It is expected that the fierce debate in Italy will continue for some time, but it remains to be seen how the differences between church and government on the issue of euthanasia will be resolved.
A list of other countries with euthanasia policies can be found here: