Tuesday September 8, 2009

Vatican Warns 41 Dissident Italian Priests Who Approved of Eluana Englaro Killing

By Hilary White

ROME, September 8, 2009 ( – 41 Catholic priests have been issued a formal warning by the Vatican for signing an open letter approving the removal of food and hydration of helpless patients like Eluana Englaro.

Five months ago, in a letter composed by Fr. Paolo Farinella of Genoa, the group complained that a living wills law being prepared by Prime Minister Berlusconi’s government excluded the possibility that food and hydration could be withdrawn from patients by doctors to bring about their deaths. Farinella, the author of the article “The right to live a duty to die,” is a well-known supporter of euthanasia.

Published by Micromega, a magazine known for its strong secular and anticlerical views, the letter said, “The law on living wills for which the government and the majority [in Parliament] are preparing to vote imprisons freedom of all actors involved at the supreme moment of death.”

It has now been revealed, however, that in August, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF) sent a letter to diocesan bishops and provincial superiors of religious orders asking the bishops to “summon the priests” who signed the letter and “to call them to order and possibly punish them” for their public support for euthanasia.

The letter continued, “Death is a natural event to which all are called, which for believers is the apex of the life lived, the threshold that brings eternity. The decision to end a semblance of existence is the exclusive domain of the person concerned who has the right to expose it in advance in a will or to family in consultation with the doctor acting on this knowledge.”

The letter, titled “For Freedom at the End of Life,” follows a national outcry in February this year against the dehydration killing of Eluana Englaro, a young woman who spent 17 years in a state of diminished consciousness following a car accident. Eluana’s father, Beppino Englaro, successfully petitioned the court to have the food and hydration tube removed from his daughter, while Berlusconi attempted a last-minute, but ultimately failed parliamentary intervention to save her life.

The death of Eluana (often referred to in the press as Italy’s Terri Schiavo) after three days of dehydration, emboldened pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide campaigners to lobby to have the Living Wills bill enacted with a provision that would allow doctors to remove hydration for patients unable to communicate.

Currently in Italian law, while patients have the right to refuse medical treatment, food and hydration are regarded as ordinary care. In many western countries, the formal definition of the provision food and water as medical treatment has created a crisis in which many doctors fear that patients are at risk of being dehydrated to death against their or their families’ wishes. In Britain, rules regarding removal of fluids could see doctors facing prison sentences for refusing to dehydrate patients to death.

Berlusconi told media this week that the law will demonstrate his government’s close ties with the Vatican, which have recently been under strain due to a newspaper scandal involving the PM. Speaking on a television interview, Berlusconi said his government’s stance on living wills would strengthen ties with the Church, which he said were already “excellent.”

“The defence my government has mounted in favour of several cornerstones of civilized society that also form the basis of Catholic doctrine – such as protecting human life and the family – demonstrate the excellent state of relations we have with the Church.”

But it is precisely these “excellent” ties between the Berlusconi government and the Church to which the letter’s signatories and defenders object.

Paolo Flores D’Arcais, publisher of the magazine that produced the letter, told Adista news service, “This yet another intimidation against conscience” and “part of a shameless simony exchange between the Church and Berlusconi.”

Read related coverage:

Italian Left Launches “Living Wills” Euthanasia Campaign in the Wake of Eluana Englaro Crisis

UK Doctors Face Jail if They Refuse to Euthanize Patients