By Hilary White

ROME, February 3, 2009 ( – Eluana Englaro, who is often referred to as “Italy’s Terri Schiavo,” was transferred late Tuesday night to a hospital that has agreed to participate in her killing by removal of her food and hydration tube. Television news coverage showed a group of pro-life activists gathered outside the clinic in Eluana’s home town of Lecco at about 1:30 am, as an ambulance took her away, some shouting “Eluana, wake up!” and “Don’t kill her!”

Eluana Englaro, 38, suffered brain damage in a car accident in 1992 and has since been in a state of diminished consciousness. Eluana’s father, Beppino Englaro, who has been petitioning the courts for over a decade to euthanize his daughter, said her transfer to the new facility is “the first step… towards the liberation of my daughter. It seems we have finally succeeded.”

Beppino Englaro’s lawyer told media that La Quiete, a private clinic in the north eastern town of Undine, had agree to participate in her killing. Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi said the government is searching for a new way to prevent her death. The removal of Eluana’s food and hydration tube is set to be carried out in three days.

Death by dehydration has been described by medical authorities as “horrible” and “agonizing.” It was a common form of torture used by totalitarian states, including in well-documented cases by the Nazis in their death camps.

In cases of severe dehydration, toxins build up in the body and the body’s chemical balances are disrupted. This disrupts the electrical system that triggers the action of muscles, including the heart. The tongue and lips crack and bleed. The eyes recede into their orbits. The skin becomes so sensitive it peels off upon firm contact. The lining of the nose can crack and bleed. Dried brain cells can cause convulsions. The mouth becomes dry and saliva thick, and there is cracking of the mucous membranes of the mouth and lips. The blood thickens, increasing the risk of stroke. As fluid decreases in the body, blood pressure drops and the heart rate increases, possibly causing shock and heart attack.

The move to kill Eluana has roused the ire of many in Italy, including Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, said on Tuesday, “Stop this murder!”

“To stop giving food and liquids to Eluana is equivalent to abominable murder and the Church will not cease to proclaim this loud and clear.” Interviewed by the Rome daily La Repubblica, the cardinal said that Eluana’s court-mandated death by dehydration “will represent a defeat for the respect of human life.” His comments come after Pope Benedict XVI spoke on Sunday against euthanasia, saying it is a false answer to suffering.

The consequences, both legal and moral, should Eluana Englaro be euthanized in a Catholic Country, will be dire, pro-life advocates have warned. Carlo Caffara, the archbishop of Bologna, said at Mass last weekend, “In the body of this woman, and in her fate, there is an image of the fate of the West.”

Eluana has become a “‘sign of contradiction’ between a culture of death and a culture of life,” he said. “Her martyred body has become the question addressed to every conscience that reflects on man’s destiny: To whom does man belong? Who has dominion over man’s life and death? Who owns man?”

“The spiritual event of the West has come to the end of the line: If the life of man does not belong to man but to God, no one has control over it for any reason, [but] if the life of man belongs to man, it is consistent to hypothesize circumstances in which everyone can do what he wants with his life or ask others to put an end to it,” Cardinal Caffara continued.

The killing of Eluana, said Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, the director of the Rome office of Human Life International, is going to be disastrous for others in similar situations in Italy. Msgr. Barreiro said, “It would create a precedent whereby judges, against the law, can decide it’s right to kill patients. We are not fighting for Eluana’s life because she has limited signs of consciousness but because of her dignity as a human being.”

Pro-life legal experts have been especially concerned that should Eluana be “legally” killed by dehydration, it would create a “back door” through which euthanasia could be legalized. The government is considering legislation that would allow the creation of “living wills” that could specify the removal of food and hydration.

In November, health and welfare minister, Maurizio Sacconi, issued a statement that in Italy it is “illegal” to remove the food and hydration of helpless disabled patients with the purpose of ending their lives. Secretary of Welfare, Eugenia Roccella, also said that there is “no obligation” for government-funded health care facilities to implement the court’s decision that patients can be dehydrated to death.

In January, two pro-life advocates launched a legal challenge to the appeals court in Milan, arguing that the decision to allow Eluana’s killing had been made without sufficient medical examination to determine her condition. At that time, more than 700 Italian doctors had signed an open letter opposing the killing of Eluana, saying that such an action is an attack against the “basic rules of good medical practice as established in the declaration of Helsinki.”

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