By Hilary White, Rome correspondent

ROME, November 10, 2008 ( – With a verdict expected this week by the Italian high court in the case of Eluana Englaro – who some are calling the “Italian Terri Schiavo” – pro-life Italians from up and down the peninsula held a torchlight rally in front of the Palazzo di Giustizia (Palace of Justice) in Rome on Saturday night.

The Catholic action group, Militia Christi, organised the rally to show support for Eluana. Demonstrators held torches, flags and banners, attracting attention of passing traffic and tourists on the historic Ponte Umberto, which spans the Tiber directly in front of the Palazzo.

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, the director of the Rome office of Human Life International told, “We are here to defend the life of Eluana Englaro.”

“Now we are arriving to the end of the judicial road,” he said. “No more appeals. It’s a very serious problem because the highest tribunal could decide that feeding and hydration could be disconnected from Eluana. And it could constitute a precedent to other cases.”

Eluana Englaro, 36, was severely injured in a 1992 car accident that left her in a state of minimal consciousness. However, she can breathe on her own and is not on a ventilator. Her “life support” has consisted of assisted feeding and hydration. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been petitioning courts to remove his daughter’s assisted nutrition and hydration since 1999.

In July, a lower court ruled that doctors could remove Eluana’s food and hydration tube. The state appealed the decision, saying that the ruling against Eluana constituted an attempt to change existing law. While this argument was rejected, a ruling on the government’s appeal from the Supreme Court of Cassation is expected tomorrow.

Eluana’s father Beppino Englaro has stated that, although he is legally entitled to remove his daughter’s food and hydration, he is not willing to proceed until all appeals are concluded.

Although media reports say that she is in a “persistent vegetative state” or a “deep coma,” her supporters report that Eluana has moments of minimal consciousness. Despite this, the previous court ruled that it had been shown both that her coma is irreversible and that she has expressed her desire not to live if she were in a “persistent vegetative state.” The Court of Appeal said the decision was “inevitable given the extraordinary duration of a state of permanent vegetation,” and given that her “vision of life” was “irreconcilable with the total and irreversible loss of her mental faculties.”

The decision will not only affect Eluana’s life, Msgr. Barreiro said, but is a crucial one in the fight against legalised euthanasia.

The decision will set a precedent for many other similar cases that are ready to be argued; it could also have a strong bearing on a proposed bill on “living wills” which could establish the right to remove the food and hydration of patients.

“That’s passive euthanasia,” Msgr. Barreiro said. “It is a form of assisted suicide; and there is a risk of that in this law. That’s why we are afraid that this law will serve as a Trojan horse to introduce in a limited way, passive euthanasia.

“It’s a crucial decision because it could open the door to euthanasia in Italy.”

About Eluana, Msgr. Barreiro said, “She is not in a deep coma, because she opens her eyes. But at the same time, that is irrelevant. We have to insist that it is irrelevant whether she is in a deep coma or gives some signs of being able to relate. Because any human being has a right to food, water and bed rest independent of his or her condition.”

If the court upholds the father’s request, “that would be a very negative antecedent,” Msgr. Barreiro added.

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