By Hilary White

ROME, January 13, 2009 ( – An open letter by doctors, circulated before Christmas, asking that Eluana Englaro be spared death by dehydration has grown from 44 to over 700 signatures. The letter says that physicians have a “professional and scientific duty” to provide hydration and nutrition to a patient who is not capable of feeding himself.

The case of Eluana Englaro, the young woman in a state of diminished consciousness whose father has campaigned in the courts to have her food and hydration removed, continues to make headlines in Italy. In November, the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court in Rome ruled that Eluana could be dehydrated to death.

The open letter, however, states that if the decree of the Court of Cassation allowing the killing of Eluana is applied that will be an attack against the “basic rules of good medical practice as established in the declaration of Helsinki.”

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, carried comments today from Luigi Tesio, a signatory of the letter and professor of physical therapy at the university of Milan, underlining that the duty of the medical doctor is to “take care of handicapped patients and not to let them die.”

This week, Dr. Paolo Gulisano, president of the Centre of Assistance to Life of Lecco, the northern town where Eluana Englaro is being cared for, together with Militia Christi and other local pro-life groups, is organising a demonstration this coming Saturday. At the same time, the Italian Radical party announced counter demonstrations in Lecco this weekend in favour of the killing of Eluana.

While the Court of Cassation decision stands, the legal situation surrounding Eluana remains complex.

Shortly after the decision was handed down, the Misericordine (Mercy) sisters, who have been caring for Eluana in their nursing home, announced in a public letter that they would refuse to participate in her killing. Last month, Beppino Englaro, Eluana’s father and legal guardian, announced that the family had located another clinic that was willing to cooperate in her death by dehydration, but at that time, the Italian Minister of Labour, Health and Social Policies said it is illegal to kill disabled people by withdrawing food and hydration. The director of the second clinic said in a statement that his facility would not receive her until all legal arguments had been settled.

This month, two activists have launched a legal challenge to the appeals court in Milan arguing that the decision to allow her killing had been made without sufficient medical examination to determine Eluana’s condition.

For the moment, Eluana remains in the care of the Misericordine sisters in her home town of Lecco.

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Eluana Englaro to Die by Dehydration after Italian High Court Ruling