“Attack on life”

The case of Eluana Englaro, who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years, has long caused a stir in Italy. The Vatican has now reacted with clear criticism and dismay to a decision by Italy's highest appeals court on euthanasia measures for the 35-year-old.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is responsible for ethics, speaks of euthanasia. Previously, the Roman Court of Cassation had declared final a Milanese judgment of July, according to which Eluana Englaro, who has been in a vegetative state since 1992, may be deprived of food. The father of the 35-year-old patient had been fighting for this legally since 1999. The case has long caused a stir in Italy. Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said on Vatican Radio that with nutritional abortion, a person is "sent to death in great suffering". The patient is "a living person, not connected to any apparatus, a person who breathes and perceives sensations on her own".

"Very serious decision in all aspects"

If the population became aware of this drama, the majority would not share the judges' judgment, the archbishop said. It is a "very serious decision from all points of view" and an "attack on life". Fisichella, who is also the house chaplain of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, called for a legislative initiative "so that any practice of passive or active euthanasia is prevented in our country". After the decision in Milan in early July, in which the judges relied on the woman's "amed will," there had also been calls from the political side for clear legal provisions on personal dignity and the patient's will. In September 2007, the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had declared in a landmark ruling that vegetative state patients must be fed permanently even if, according to medical judgment, there is no hope that the person in question will ever regain consciousness. It was a matter of saving the patient from suffering and death by starvation and dehydration through a "proportionate means of life support," it said in justification.

Indirect response to debate over Terri Shia

Discontinuation of artificial nutrition is justified only "when food and water can no longer be absorbed by or administered to the patient's body without causing significant physical discomfort". The Vatican's faith authority was indirectly responding to the controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo, who died after 15 years in a vegetative state on 31. March 2005 had died in Florida. Her husband had won the removal of the feeding tubes in years of litigation before the highest judicial authorities in the country. Schiavo died of thirst13 days later.

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