By Hilary White

  MILAN, Italy, July 9, 2008 ( – A young disabled woman in Milan may be euthanised by dehydration, an Italian appeals court has ruled. Eluana Englaro, 36, may have her “life support”, that is, her feeding tube, removed as early as today. It is believed, however, that this will be delayed until the end of a 60 day waiting period in which the state has a chance to appeal the decision.

  The court ruled that it had been shown both that Englaro’s coma was irreversible and that she had 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 having established her “vision of life, irreconcilable with the total and irreversible loss of her mental faculties”.

  The case of Eluana Englaro has become a cause celebre in Italy with circumstances closely reflecting those of Terri Schindler Schiavo who died by court-ordered dehydration in 2005.

  Englaro, who was not on a respirator, has been in a coma since being in a car accident in 1992 and has lived with the assistance of a feeding tube since then. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been petitioning courts to remove his daughter’s assisted nutrition and hydration since 1999.

  He told media today, “This is a victory for legal rights, at long last the end of the worst nightmare that any human being can experience. The judges made a courageous decision. Now, at last, we can set Eluana free.”

  But Catholic ethicists said the decision set a dangerous precedent. The Bioethics Committee of Rome’s Catholic university hospital, said in a statement, “The interruption of food and drink will result in a slow death for Eluana Englaro, guilty only of being still alive.”

“We must underline the gravity of this decision. It places in the hands of the guardian a power of life and death, undermining the principle that one must look after patients who are unable to think for themselves.”

  In 2005, an earlier court ruling had concluded that feeding Englaro, while she remained in a coma was a “necessary act”. It said a decision to remove the tube required “valuations of life and death that are rooted in concepts of an ethical or religious nature, which are extrajudicial,” and said that the issue was also outside the powers of Englaro’s father.

  The Supreme Court had ruled that since there was no specific evidence of the woman’s views on life and death, it was impossible to say that her father’s opinion reflected her own.

  Under Italian law direct euthanasia is forbidden, but like many developed countries, food and water when received through a feeding tube are regarded as medical treatment which Italy’s constitution allows patients to refuse.

  As has become the norm, the international press has used the terminology of the euthanasia advocacy movement in its coverage and reported almost without exception that Englaro will be “allowed to die” by having her “life support” removed. In medical terms, however, Englaro is not terminally ill and the “life support” is the same as that which sustains the life of any person, ill or well: food and water.

  Medical evidence, and the testimony of people who have survived severe dehydration, shows that this is far from being the “peaceful” death portrayed by euthanasia-supporting media. Dr. David Stevens, a physician who has worked with cases of severe dehydration in developing countries, told WorldNetDaily it is a “cruel and agonizing” death.

  Symptoms start with extreme thirst, dry mouth and thick saliva, dizziness, faintness and inability to sit or stand. This is followed by severe cramping in the arms and legs as the sodium and potassium concentrations increase. The patient then experiences severe abdominal cramps, nausea and dry-heaving as the stomach and intestines dry out.

  Later, skin and lips begin to crack and the tongue swells; nosebleeds may ensue as the mucous membranes dry out and break down. The skin loses elasticity, thins and wrinkles. The hands and feet become cold as the blood is rushed to the vital organs. The patient stops urinating and suffers severe headaches as the brain shrinks from lack of fluids. As body chemistry becomes more imbalanced, some patients experience seizures, followed by coma and death.