The Right to Die in Italy

February 27th, 2009 | Sources: Economist


Earlier this month physicians at a clinic in Udine, Italy withdrew nutritional support from Eluana Englaro, a 38 year-old woman that had been in an irreversible coma for 17 years. She died 3 days later.

thatwasalongtimeagoSad though it may be, such an event isn’t particularly newsworthy in most of Europe, but it was huge in Italy.

Pro-choice and pro-life protestors came to blows outside the clinic.

TV programming was interrupted to report the woman’s demise.

And at the time Ms. Englaro passed away, parliament was haggling over a bill to keep her alive.

“Eluana has been killed,” declared a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition.

After trying for 9 years, the woman’s father had secured a ruling from the nation’s highest appeals court that his daughter had a right to die because she had stated a preference not to be kept alive by artificial means before her auto accident.

The Vatican saw the ruling as licensing euthanasia, and since the women had been receiving care at a church-run facility, she had to be transferred.

And Berlusconi himself stepped into the fray. The prime minister, who thinks noblesse oblige is an Italian expression, directed his cabinet to issue a decree forcing the woman’s physicians to keep her alive.

Forget the political process and the polls showing most Italians favored the woman’s right to die. All that had to happen was for President Giorgio Napolitano to sign the decree and it was done.

But he didn’t.

Fallout from the tragedy is that Berlusconi and Napolitano won’t be sipping cappuccinos by the Spanish Steps any time soon, and parliament is making progress on a bill enabling people to draw up living wills.

That’s not something 21 year-olds are prone to do but it’s a start.


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