February 24, 2024

Italy’s Terri Schiavo dies

ather wins 9-year battle to remove food and water

Beppino Englaro with photos of his daughter EluanaAn Italian woman who had been in an irreversible coma for 17 years died in a clinic in Udine on February 9 after years of legal, political and religious wrangling. Doctors withdrew food and water from Eluana Englaro and after only 3 days she died of a heart attack brought on by dehydration. After a 1992 car accident Eluana was cared for by Catholic nuns in a hospice. However her father, Beppino Englaro, finally won a 9-year battle in the courts to allow her to die last November.

The court’s decision was harshly criticised by the Catholic Church as a step towards legalised euthanasia. "They have killed an innocent person who was incapable of defending herself: Life is a gift of God and they had no right to take away that of Eluana," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins. As with Terri Schiavo, politicians sensed an opportunity for grandstanding and turned the case into a polarising political issue. Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is not renowned for his Catholic piety, issued a decree to force the clinic to continue treating Eluana. However, left-wing President Giorgio Napolitano refused to countersign it and withdrawal of food and water proceeded.

One outcome of the bitter dispute may be legislation for living wills. Mr Englaro’s trump card was his claim that Eluana had stated that she would not want to kept alive artificially. Had she put this in writing, the case would have been clearer. However, as The Economist points out, "Ms Englaro was 21 when she had her car accident. Is it likely that she would have made a living will at such an early age?"