By Hilary White

ROME, February 6, 2009 ( – Italy’s President and head of state, has refused to sign an emergency measure, passed by the government, that would save the life of Eluana Englaro, the young woman whose food and hydration is being removed starting today. The ratification by the President is required under Italy’s parliamentary system for the law to take effect.

The government announced at 3 p.m. (Italian time) today that it had approved the temporary measure, called a “decree law,” that was drafted to prohibit the removal of food and hydration from vulnerable patients. A decree law is a measure that can be put into place by the Council of Ministers as an emergency measure and will be in effect for 60 days while Parliament debates whether to adopt it permanently.

Napolitano’s refusal has “frozen” the measure and although there is a procedure in place in Parliament to override his decision, it will take 20 days to implement, by which time Eluana will have been successfully dehydrated to death.

The government announcement of its approval of the law came as the nursing clinic in Udine, La Quieta, to which Eluana was taken on Tuesday night by her father, told media this morning that the process of “gradual” removal of food and hydration from Eluana Englaro had begun. Medical experts predicted that from the start of this process, 48 hours would have remained to stop the procedure before irreversible damage was done to Eluana.

Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic, is under heavy pressure to sign the law which is supported by Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister and head of the government. Napolitano, the Head of State and former leader of the Italian Communist party, had sent a letter to the executive explaining his doubts about a measure of its kind. After the 1991 dissolution of the officially recognised Italian Communist Party, Napolitano joined the Democrats of the Left (DS) party. He was the first former member of the Communist party to be Minister of the Interior.

The text of the law, entitled “Urgent Provisions on Nutrition and Hydration,” reads, “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.”

Today the Council of Ministers voted unanimously to support the measure despite the doubts of some. “Even those who had doubts were convinced to vote because the government has the opportunity to express its decision but also offers a way to Parliament to decide,” one member said. In November, legal expert Luca Silvestri told that a decree law was the best hope of stopping the court-mandated dehydration death of Eluana as well as protecting others by closing the legal “back door” to euthanasia by dehydration.

Thousands of pro-life groups and individuals across Italy have been begging the government to intervene. Archbishop Pietro Brollo of Udine said on Wednesday, “The only duty society has towards this young woman is to help her to live.”

“Udine is ready to embrace Eluana Englaro, a daughter of this land. Upon learning of her arrival, I ask first of all that this woman be guaranteed care, hydration, nutrition and every means that someone who is sick, particularly someone who is very incapacitated, is due by those who have the professional duty in conscience to provide a cure,” the archbishop wrote in a statement

As of this writing, demonstrations are still planned for the weekend in support of Eluana, who is often described as the “Terri Schiavo” of Italy. The Catholic apostolate, Communion and Liberation that has thousands of followers across Italy, announced it will be mobilising to save Eluana and demonstrating outside the La Quiete clinic in Udine. The group “Two Minutes for Life” a national lobby group, is providing the email addresses of members of parliament and asking the public to demand that the government save Eluana.

Daniele Sebastianelli national coordinator of the Catholic action group Militia Christi told that they will be demonstrating on Sunday afternoon with a candle light vigil. On Thursday night, the group held a similar vigil outside the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic.

Movement for Life of Casale, in a press release proposed three “weapons” to save Eluana: “prayer, fasting and the use of computers”. They ask that the Catholics of Italy pray the Rosary every day for her life, seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, whose feast is February 11. The group also strongly suggested three days of fasting and requested that all the people of Italy “who are committed to the defence of life should continue to write to the Italian government asking them to use all possible legal instruments to save Eluana’s life”.

Stefano Gizzi, an attorney and Municipal Councillor of the town of Ceccano, wrote to Senator Maruo Cutrufo, requesting that the decree law to save Eluana be passed, calling it “absolutely urgent” and said that the value of human life is “not negotiable”.

The head of the Rome office of Human Life International, Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, sent a letter today to Berlusconi, pleading for the life of Eluana. Msgr. Barreiro said, “Think of the blessings of the Lord that would come upon Italy if you would have the courage to save the life of Eluana Englaro.”

“Think how much those blessings are necessary in this time of crisis when unemployment is increasing when it is harder and harder for families to pay the most basic living expenses.

“If you do not abandon the ways of the Lord, He will not abandon you, and He will reward your fidelity. If instead you let Eluana die, think on the justice of the Lord; think that in a not distant future, you will find yourself in front of the justice of the Lord, and you will need all His mercy.

“But if you save Eluana, our organisation, which is extended worldwide, will praise you publicly, and your courage in justice will be known worldwide. I assure you that in difficult times, I will pray constantly for you.”

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