By Hilary White

ROME, November 24, 2009 ( – The father of Eluana Englaro (known in the press as “Italy’s Terri Shiavo”), Beppino Englaro, is making a name for himself as a euthanasia activist, and is continuing to claim justification for his successful decade-long court battle to have his daughter’s food and hydration removed last year.

At the same time, according to a report commissioned by the prosecutor of Udine, the town in which she died, Eluana was in an “irreversible coma” at the time of her death.

Eluana Englaro was an Italian woman from Lecco in northern Italy, who was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” after a car accident in 1992. The Udine report by neurologists Fabrizio Tagliavini and Raffaele de Caro said she had suffered “irreversible neuropathological damage.”

The 330 page study said, “The situation of the brain was consistent with persistent vegetative state.”

Italian law allows a patient to refuse medical treatment, but, as yet, the delivery of food and water by feeding tube is not defined as such. The prosecutor of Udine is considering whether Englaro and the physicians who allowed her death can be charged with homicide under the current law.

All of Italy was in an uproar late last year when the Court of Cassation in Rome agreed to allow the removal of Eluana’s food and hydration tube, the only form of “life support” she was receiving. Eluana died three days after the tube was removed.

“They wanted to make me a scapegoat, and I was charged with homicide, aggravated further because I was the father of Eluana,” said Beppino Englaro. “But I did nothing but act with due respect for legality and transparency.”

“What the case has proved is that we live under the rule of law, and that ordinary citizens can trust the judiciary to defend their rights and freedoms. In front of anybody.”

Since his daughter’s death, Beppino Englaro has become an activist for the legalization of euthanasia in Italy, promoting his book “Life Without Limits,” that calls for a change in the law. In his book, Englaro has presented his daughter’s death as a symbol of the struggle for the “right to self-determination.”

“I can only continue to fight for a law that respects the person … the right to decide for their own body,” Englaro wrote.

Englaro, now the head of an association dedicated to the cause of legalized euthanasia in his daughter’s name, spoke in Cagliari on Saturday at a seminar on living wills and the “Freedom to Choose” organized by the local chapter of the Union of Atheists and Agnostics and Rationalists.

“The problem is respect for and protection of rights,” he said.

“Nobody, not even those who represent us in Parliament, can substitute our will. These are decisions to be made, not for me but with me. Any other way of legislation is unconstitutional,” he said.

However, anti-euthanasia activists have recently highlighted the much-publicized case of the Belgian man, Rom Houben, who was misdiagnosed for 23 years as being in a coma-like state. That Houben was actually completely conscious but unable to respond challenges “the pro-euthanasia mentality which exists regarding severely incapacitated patients,” said Janet Thomas of the campaign group No Less Human.

Thomas, who had championed Eluana’s right to life despite being in a coma, said, “This case highlights the huge dangers in assessing profoundly disabled people as having lives not worth living.”

But others have said that the condition of the patient, whether conscious or not, is in fact immaterial in the debate. Monsignore Ignacio Barreiro, the head of the Rome office of Human Life International, and a key figure in the fight to save Eluana, told that the condition of the person can never “warrant the termination of a human life.”

“Whatever condition that Eluana Englaro might have suffered, that never grants the right to terminate her life. It’s as simple as that.”

Msgr. Barreiro said that he had opposed the argument that because Terri Schiavo had some limited consciousness she should not be dehydrated to death.

“That is immaterial,” he said. “It doesn’t change the issue. Even if she had an absolute type of coma that was totally irreversible, that there was medically no way, no hope, nevertheless, that gives the right to no one the right to terminate the life of that person.”

Read related LSN coverage:

Eluana Englaro Sentenced to Death without Medical Examination Charge Italian Activists