By Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

MILAN, November 17, 2008 ( – The nuns who run the hospice in which Eluana Englaro has been living for 14 years have refused to carry out the court order to remove her food and hydration tube. On Friday, the highest court of appeals of Italy upheld a previous court’s ruling that Eluana Englaro, the young disabled woman who has been in a state of diminished consciousness since being in a car accident in 1992, may be killed by the removal of her food and hydration tube.

In a letter published in yesterday’s Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, the Misericordine nuns of Lecco said, “Our hope, and that of many like us, is that the death by hunger and thirst of Eluana, and others in her condition, will not be carried out.”

“That is why, once again, we maintain our availability, today and into the future, to continue to serve Eluana. If there are those who consider her dead, let Eluana remain with us who feel she is alive. We don’t ask anything but the silence and the liberty to love and to devote ourselves to those who are weak, poor and little in return.”

At the same time, the Secretary of Welfare, Eugenia Roccella, said in a statement today that there is “no obligation” for government-funded health care facilities to implement the decision of the Court of Cassation that patients can be dehydrated to death.

Legal experts have said that it is possible under Italian law for the sisters to apply for permission from the courts to be appointed Eluana’s legal guardian. Monsignore Ignacio Barreiro, the head of the Rome office of Human Life International told that such a possibility could be a real glimmer of hope for saving Eluana’s life.

“It’s more than reasonable,” he said, “that someone who wants to keep the person alive should be appointed the guardian, rather than the person who’s ready to kill her. You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to say that; it’s just common sense.”

Msgr. Barriero, who was an attorney before being ordained to the priesthood, added that it is a basic principle of law that “you cannot have a conflict of interest between the guardian and the person who is under guardianship. The purpose of a guardian is to look after the well being of the person.”

550 delegates of the Movement for Life, meeting in Montecatini for the 28th National Congress of the Centers for Aid to Life, have written to President Giorgio Napolitano to ask him to “enforce his highest moral authority” to allow Eluana Englaro “to continue to be cared for and loved by the Sisters of Lecco.”

Giulio Boscagli, Assessor to the Family and Solidarity in the region of Lombardy in which Eluana lives, agreed with the nuns, saying, “The ruling of the Court of Cassation seems to have lost sight of the reality” that Eluana is not dead but alive, although currently in a “seriously disabled condition.”

The desire of the nuns to care for Eluana as though she is “a daughter,” he said, “is the right path, the path taken by all those who daily take care of people who are in a vegetative state or very seriously disabled.” Boscagli pledged the “closeness and support” of the Regione Lombardia for the nuns.

At the same time, the decision of the Court of Cassation has alerted lawmakers to a legal loophole that could be used to sanction euthanasia. Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said that parliament must “fill the legislative vacuum in place” that has allowed the court to rule against Eluana.

Read related coverage:

Eluana Englaro to Die by Dehydration after Italian High Court Ruling