Italy Divided Over Woman In Coma

38 year old Eluana Englaro of Italy has been in a coma for the past 17 years. Her family is now attempting to pull her feeding tubes, but the Italian government is not allowing it.

According to The Guardian, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, always on the lookout for ways to offend and horrify people, has declared, after a consultation with the Vatican, "that food and water cannot be suspended for any patient depending upon them," an emergency decree that reverses an early Italian Supreme Court ruling allowing Englaro's father, Beppino, to remove his daughter's feeding tubes, something he has been fighting for for nearly a decade. Beppino says that his daughter would have wanted the tubes removed: "If she couldn't be what she was (before the accident in 1992) then she would not have wanted to live," he says.

Berlusconi and the Vatican, however, apparently don't care about those wishes: "This is murder. I would be failing to rescue her. I'm not a Pontius Pilate," Berlusconi noted, adding that Eluana was still "in the condition to have babies" as a justification for keeping her on life support, even though she's been in a coma for 17 years. Doctors have ignored Berlusconi's decree and are continuing to follow the original ruling, gradually reducing Eluana's food intake and increasing her medication as a means to induce a peaceful end.

The case, The Guardian notes, "has deeply divided Italian society and raised concerns over the influence of the Vatican," and it's not hard to see shades of Terri Schiavo and the battles between family wishes, government influences, and religious groups taking place here. Though the Vatican and Berlusconi continue to insist that allowing Eluana to die would be "murder," her anaesthetist, Professor Antonio de Monte, puts it this way: "Eluana died 17 years ago."

The most frightening aspect of this is the fact that Berlusconi and the Vatican are overruling Italy's own court system: after a decade of fighting for his daughter's wishes, Beppino's rights were still denied due to Catholic influence, essentially canceling out the judicial process. And much like the Schiavo case, it has become something beyond life and death- Eluana, her life, death, and family have now become pawns in a political game, a symbol for a religious ideal; for all of those people claiming to have a great deal of respect for her life, they certainly don't seem to have any respect for the way she and her family wished to end it.

Italy Faces Constitutional Crisis Over Coma Woman [The Guardian]