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Europe

Senate debates mercy killing case

Latest update : 2009-02-09

Italy's senate was to convene an emergency session on Monday aimed at preventing the mercy killing of Eluana Englaro, an accident victim who has been in a coma for 17 years and whose family won a court battle to halt her life support.

AFP - The Italian Senate was to hold an emergency session Monday aimed at preventing the death of a long-comatose accident victim whose family won a court battle to halt her life support.
  
Doctors in Udine, northeast Italy, stopped feeding Eluana Englaro on Friday amid a flurry of efforts to stop the mercy killing, with conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused of politicising the affair.
  
President Giorgio Napolitano Friday refused to sign an emergency cabinet decree that would prevent doctors from withholding food from Englaro, who has been in a coma for 17 years and is now 38.
  
Now parliament, where Berlusconi enjoys comfortable majorities in both chambers, will instead vote on a bill designed to force doctors to keep Englaro alive.
  
The Senate will meet Monday, while the lower Chamber of Deputies will take up the bill possibly as soon as Wednesday, news reports said.
  
Italy's libertarian Radical Party said it planned to add more than 1,000 amendments to the bill in a bid to impede its progress through parliament.
  
The party took the lead in a battle for a muscular dystrophy patient's right to die in 2006 in another high-profile case that divided Italy, where the Roman Catholic Church has a heavy influence.
  
Englaro's longtime neurologist Carlo Alberto Defanti predicted that Englaro may stay alive another eight to 10 days, until February 17 to 19.
  
"During the first week without food and water, Eluana won't run a big risk," Defanti said in an review published Monday by the leading daily Corriere della Sera.
  
"After that, no one can say. Her physical condition is excellent. Probably ... she will resist for longer than average. Twelve to 14 days could elapse between stopping the feeding and death," Defanti said.
  
"Aside from her brain injuries, Eluana is a healthy woman. She has never been ill and never took antibiotics," he added.
  
Defanti also said he felt he was doing "the right thing. I am helping a person achieve her own wish, a defenceless person who was betrayed by everyone except her father and a few other people."
  
An arduous legal battle ended in November after courts were satisfied that Englaro's coma is irreversible and that she had repeatedly expressed her wish not to be kept alive artificially.
  
Englaro's case has torn predominantly Roman Catholic Italy in two, with equal numbers -- 47 percent -- wanting her to be kept alive or allowed to die, according to an opinion poll by Corriere.
  
While euthanasia is illegal in Italy, patients have the right to refuse care.
  
Englaro, however, has become a symbol for the Catholic Church in its campaign against mercy killings.
  
Catholic associations have mounted a vigil outside the Udine hospital, while right-to-die advocates were set to hold a rally in solidarity with Englaro's family on Monday in Florence.
  
A leading figure in the opposition Democratic Party, Massimo D'Alema, on Monday described Berlusconi as a "bully," saying: "Berlusconi has little knowledge of the constitutional culture. He is a bully who wants to question the president's constitutional democratic powers."
  
The former foreign minister told the ANSA news agency: "This is worrisome. Besides trying to assert his power, (Berlusconi) has exploited a human story."
  
Meanwhile, regional health authorities questioned the competence of the Udine hospital, La Quiete, to carry out the mercy killing.
  
On Sunday, the president of Udine's Friuli-Venezia region ordered an inspection after authorities uncovered what they called "administrative anomalies" at La Quiete, though they were not serious enough to warrant intervention by the region.
  
Regional president Enzo Tondo appealed in a letter to hospital director Ines Domenicali to resume Englaro's feeding until parliament votes on the matter.
  
Lawyers for the Englaro family said they would fight efforts by the region to take over operations at the hospital, which four doctors were to inspect on Monday.

Date created : 2009-02-09

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