Debate Sparked Over "Italy's Schiavo"

Milan Woman's Feeding Tube Ordered Removed

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ROME, JULY 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Milan's appeals court authorized Eulana Englaro's father to remove his daughter's feeding tube, who has been in a state of coma since 1992.

The decision, in what has become known as the "Italian Terry Schiavo" case, has been strongly criticized by several bioethical and medical associations, which agree that it is a case of active euthanasia, and not a question of interrupting a disproportionate treatment.

Critics of the ruling affirm that 37-year-old Englaro's agony might be a long and painful death.

Englaro was 16 when she was involved in a car crash. The impact smashed her skull and broke her neck. Although the doctors doubted she would survive, within three months she was breathing on her own.

The Scienza e Vita association issued a harsh statement expressing its "bitterness and astonishment" in regard to the case, because "it legitimizes the death of a human being, depriving her of the most elemental things: nourishment and hydration."

It added that the "the society of the healthy has decided not to take care of a human being in conditions of the greatest frailty and dependence, condemning her to an atrocious death by hunger and thirst."

Scienza e Vita fears that, with this legal precedent, "one must fear an increase in petitions in this respect."

In regard to families faced with similar situations, the association wonders "what has not been done in terms of care and support of a family that, as so many others, must face an ungovernable situation, in which loneliness and despair are poor counselors."

Debatable

In an article published by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Adriano Pessina, director of the Bioethics Athenaeum of the Sacro Cuore Catholic University, said that "an ordinary treatment (nourishment and hydration) is being suspended because of a decision that has no clinical foundation."

Pessina explained that the decision has been taken based on two criteria: the alleged will of Englaro not to live in these circumstances, and the "power of life and death attributed to the figure of the guardian."

As regards the first question, the Athenaeum's director recalled that in Italy there is no such thing as a "biological testament," so that it is "forced to attribute an expressed decisive relevance reconstructed indirectly."

In regard to the second question, the author states that the guardian's power is debatable, given that he "should act in the best interest of the person entrusted to him. Decisions on a person's life should be limited, and every citizen should be guaranteed that the value of his life will not be determined by a particular anthropological idea."

Why death?

For his part, Dr. Renzo Puccetti, secretary of the Scienza et Vita organization of Pisa-Livorno, said in an interview with ZENIT that in Englaro's case, "cerebral death has not be certified, and the proof is that no one would dare ask for her organs."

Moreover, in regard to her present state, Puccetti added that there are no proofs that it is a question of a "permanent" vegetative state: "The vegetative state is a diagnosis, and the adjective 'permanent' is incorrect because it proclaims a hypothesis of which no one can be sure."

Moreover, the doctor labeled as "inexplicable" the fact that a normal and in no way "disproportionate" treatment is being interrupted. However, if her nourishment and hydration are interrupted, it will be Terry Schiavo all over again.

"The ulcers she will get on her skin, her very dry lips, the hemorrhages, convulsions and need for morphine, which Terry needed, is all this good for Eluana?" he wondered.

According to Pessina, "It isn't necessary to take recourse to a religious concept of life, or to deny the legal and moral possibility of rejecting disproportionate treatments to dissent from this decision: Suffice it to stress that, in Eluana's case, imposed in fact is the interruption of a long process of care, made up of attention, loving dedication and respect for her personal dignity, which the protagonists of the appeal themselves have always recognized."

"The subject of consciousness is very delicate to address," he added. "However, if Eluana is truly not conscious of herself, then she doesn't suffer, and it is hard to understand why the state -- unless it is because of an obstinate ideological plan of a state that calls itself lay and should be as methodologically foreign to it as it is to all religious confessions -- must condemn her to death."