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Drama deepens in right-to-die case

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An emergency Senate session has been brought forward to Monday after doctors began withdrawing life support from comatose patient Eluana Englaro in a process they said would become irreversible within five days.


AFP - The drama deepened Saturday in an Italian right-to-die case when an emergency Senate session was brought forward by 15 hours after doctors began withdrawing life support from comatose patient Eluana Englaro.

Senate speaker Renato Schifani rescheduled an emergency session -- earlier set for Tuesday morning -- to 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Monday, the chamber said in a communique.

Doctors quoted in the leading daily Corriere della Sera said the process leading to Englaro's death would become irreversible within five days.

Englaro, now 38, has been in a coma for 17 years as a result of a traffic accident.

Her family lawyer Giuseppe Campeis told Corriere: "We are continuing with our (medical) procedure" aimed at ensuring a "gentle death."

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has mounted a campaign to prevent Englaro's death, on Friday sending an emergency cabinet decree to the Senate that would prevent doctors from withholding food from her.

But President Giorgio Napolitano sparked a constitutional battle by refusing to put his signature to the edict.

Englaro's father won the right to stop feeding her intravenously through a court order last November.

Euthanasia is illegal in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy, but patients have the right to refuse care.

Englaro however has become a symbol for the Church -- which has a heavy influence in Italy -- in its campaign against mercy killings.

Berlusconi said Saturday: "Frankly I'm amazed that doctors who have vowed to save human lives can take part in the act that will surely lead to death, even cruelly by depriving the organism of food."

Corriere said food had been withheld from Englaro since Friday morning. Two doctors quoted in its report said the "process should become irreversible" within "three to five days".

The case is reminiscent of that of American Terry Schiavo who was in a vegetative state for 15 years before she died in the US state of Florida in March 2005.

Her death followed a long court battle during which then-president George W. Bush flew to Washington from a vacation at his Texan ranch to try to overturn a court ruling under which she would be allowed to die.

Berlusconi's cabinet met twice on Friday to approve the blocking decree and the prime minister vowed that it would be passed within three days.

"I believe I represent the sentiment of the majority of Italians," Berlusconi said.

Englaro's father won a court battle on September 13 for her right to die, but struggled to find the hospital in Udine, northern Italy, willing to oversee the process.

In 2006, the Italian Catholic Church refused to allow a religious funeral for poet and writer Piergiorgio Welby, a muscular dystrophy sufferer.

Welby died in December 2006 after being taken off an artificial respirator.

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