Euthanasia ruling draws Vatican rebuke
Article from: Agence France-Presse
From correspondents in Rome
July 10, 2008 06:46am
AN Italian court ruled today that a road accident victim could be removed from life support after 16 years in a coma, drawing a swift rebuke from the Vatican, which said the ruling gave "de facto" justification for euthanasia.
The Milan appeal court that reached the decision said it was "inevitable" given "the extraordinary duration of (Eluano Englaro's) permanent vegetative state ... and her view of life".
The Milan court ruled that her coma was proven to be irreversible and that the young woman "would have preferred to die than being kept alive on artificial support".
Monsignor Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, reacted by telling the ANSA news agency that the ruling justified "an act of euthanasia de facto" and should be challenged in a higher court.
Englaro, born in 1972, has been in a vegetative state for 16 years following a road accident.
She has been receiving food and water artificially since January 1992 in a hospital in northern Lecco, and her father Beppino Englaro had been seeking an end to the life support since 1999.
Debate on the emotive issue of euthanasia has been complicated in Italy by the influence of the Catholic Church, which notably refused to allow a religious funeral for poet and writer Piergiorgio Welby in 2006.
Welby, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, died in December 2006 after being taken off an artificial respirator.
His highly publicised cause - which had been taken up by Italy's small but vocal libertarian Radical Party - highlighted ambiguities in Italian law, which currently forbids euthanasia but upholds a patient's right to refuse care.
A similar case to Englaro's was that of Terry Schiavo in the United States, who died in March 2005 at age 41 after her feeding tube was removed by court order.
At the time, the Vatican accused the court of "arbitrarily" bringing forward the moment of her death. Schiavo had been in a coma for 15 years.
Two years later, on a request for guidance by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on cases such as Schiavo's, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that patients in irreversible comas should be given food and water.
"A patient in a 'permanent vegetative state' is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means," the Vatican's doctrinal enforcer said.
Vatican Radio called today's ruling "serious", recalling that for years courts had refused to consider Beppino Englaro's bid.
Catholic bioethics experts had said magistrates could not "disregard the inviolability of life and the duty of every civil society to help its weakest citizens," Vatican Radio recalled.