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Government divided over euthanasia case

Latest update : 2009-02-06

The pro-Berlusconi Italian cabinet gave unanimous backing to an emergency decree stopping the family of a 38-year old woman from removing her from life support. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano refused to sign the decree.

AFP -  The Italian government approved an emergency decree Friday to stop the family of a woman in a coma for 17 years from aiding her death, but President Giorgio Napolitano refused to sign it into law.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would fast-track legislation to keep Eluana Englaro alive, as doctors said they had begun reducing her artificial feeding.

A top official in the Vatican, which bitterly opposes euthanasia as murder, welcomed the government's move.

An official statement from Napolitano's office said the decree approved unanimously by Berlusconi's cabinet was unconstitutional. He had told the prime minister that he did not find the case of Eluana Englaro of an "urgent nature," according to ANSA news agency.

The decree states that "pending complete legislation on euthanasia, food and water when it comes to means of sustaining life or providing for the physiological goal of easing suffering" cannot be suspended for people unable to take their own decisions.

Englaro, 37, arrived Tuesday at a hospital in the northeastern Italian town of Udine, where doctors said her feeding tubes would be removed in three days so that she can die peacefully.

The hospital said her feeding had been reduced from Friday as part of the process.

Englaro has been in a coma since January 1992 following a traffic accident. Her case has gripped Italians and triggered a fierce debate over euthanasia.

Her father won the right to stop feeding her intravenously in a November 13 court order, but had trouble finding a hospital to comply.

A combative Berlusconi Friday contested the president's stand, saying: "We have all the elements of urgency and need," and stressed that "according to the constitution, the government has the right to decide what is an emergency situation."

The premier said that he would summon parliament "within the next 48 hours" to adopt the decree, adding, "If we did not do everything possible to avoid the death of a person whose life is in danger, who is breathing on her own, I would feel guilty of neglecting to help."

The constitution states that emergency decrees can become law if they are adopted within 60 days by parliament, where Berlusconi has a comfortable majority in both houses.

Any decree passed by the legislature has to be rubber stamped by the president.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, honorary president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, hailed the cabinet's decision, saying, "Eluana is alive, she has the right to live and politicians must sustain her life by all means at their disposal."

In remarks following his regular Angelus blessing Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI rejected euthanasia as a "false" answer to suffering, saying those in pain should instead be helped to confront it.

Date created : 2009-02-06