By Hilary White

UDINE, Italy, February 5, 2009 ( – Today, the Italian government announced it has made ready a draft emergency measure that would prohibit the removal of food and hydration from vulnerable patients. As of this writing, the measure, though drafted and ready, has not yet been formally adopted, the final decision being that of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The move comes as pro-life Italians have urgently called upon the government to intervene in the case of Eluana Englaro who had been removed late Tuesday night to a nursing home willing to participate in her killing. 

The measure, called a “decree law” entitled “Urgent Provisions on Nutrition and Hydration,” says, “Pending the approval of a complete and comprehensive legislative framework in the field of end-of-life, nutrition and hydration, as forms of life support physiologically designed to alleviate suffering, cannot under any circumstances be rejected by the person concerned or suspended from caregiver subjects unable to provide for themselves”.

Under Italian law, a decree law can be put into place by the head of state in urgent circumstances, for a period of 60 days while Parliament considers it for permanent approval. The draft law was announced as an emergency measure after Eluana Englaro, who is often referred to as “Italy’s Terri Schiavo,” was transferred late Tuesday night to La Quiete hospital in Udine, that has agreed to participate in her killing by removal of her food and hydration tube.

Pier Ferdinando Casini, a member of the Chamber of Deputies and a member of the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, said, “We respect the grief of the family of Eluana and we are close to her father, but we believe that nobody has the right to life and death on a person.”

Eluana, now 38, has been in a state of severely diminished consciousness for 17 years following a car accident in 1992. Eluana Englaro’s father, Beppino, has claimed that his daughter had indicated that she would not wish to live in such circumstances. He has petitioned the courts for over a decade, despite euthanasia being illegal in Italy, to have her food and hydration removed so that she can “be allowed to die”. A lawyer for the family told media that the hospital will begin the withholding of fluid and food starting Friday.
In November, Italy’s highest court of appeals, the Court of Cassation in Rome, upheld the ruling of a Milan lower court allowing the petition. Shortly after this ruling, a prominent Italian lawyer, Luca Silvestri, told that the best hope of saving Eluana’s life would be such a law defining clearly that food and hydration could not be considered “medical treatment” subject to withdrawal at the request of patients.

Under Article 32 of the Italian Constitution, a patient has the right to accept or refuse medical therapies, but this has always been interpreted as excluding food and water. Should the government’s draft law be adopted and food and water be clearly identified as not subject to Article 32, this potential “back door” to legal euthanasia by dehydration could be permanently closed.

At the same time, the public prosecutor of the town of Udine, Antonio Biancardi, has announced that his office will undertake an investigation to verify the testimonies of friends and family who claimed that Eluana Englaro would have preferred to die by dehydration than be allowed to live in a “persistent vegetative state”. The announcement comes following complaints to police and the prosecutors office, the Italian daily Il Giornale reports. 

The controversy has continued as pro-life advocates have brought lawsuits questioning the legality of the decision and the governor of the Lombardy region, where Eluana had lived and been cared for, attempted to stop the dehydration order. Shortly after the Court of Cassation ruling in November, the Misericordine Sisters in Lecco, issued a letter saying that they would refuse to participate in her killing.

Read related coverage:
Eluana Transferred Late Tuesday Night to Clinic for Death by Dehydration 


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