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Italy's right-to-die controversy

12th February 2009

The recent death of an 38-year-old woman has sparked controversy around the Italian right-to-die laws.

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Eluanga Englaro, who had been in a coma for over 16 years, was allowed to die at the request of her father.

News of her death came just as politicians began to debate an emergency bill that would have kept her alive.

Englaro's death has inspired protests, and emotions run high on both sides of the debate.

The Italian press published in-depth articles several pages in length in response.

Many of them criticised the actions of politicians in dealing with the event, saying that Englaro has become only a symbol in a power struggle between opposing parties.

In the Italian Senate, the flag flew at half-mast, and politicians held a minute of silence out of respect for Englaro.

But the minute of silence was broken by the shouts of politicians from the conservative party.

Italians are strongly divided over whether or not Englaro's death should be considered an act of mercy or an act of murder.

Catholics and conservatives have been of the most vehemently opposed to the idea of a "right to die".

Meanwhile, right-to-die activists have lambasted the Italian government for their role in attempting to stop Englaro's death.

The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, blames President Giorgio Napolitano for getting in the way of his emergency decree that would have allowed her to stay alive.

He said that Englaro did not die a natural death, but was killed, and that the president has made a serious mistake.

On the other hand, Napolitano has accused Berlusconi of acting unconstitutionally by going against court orders.

Courts had ruled that Englaro's feeding tubes should be removed, according to the wishes of her father.

She died in a clinic in the northern town of Udine.

Reports say that she died of cardiac arrest, though no autopsy was performed.

Both experts and activists against mercy killing reject that the idea that Englaro's death could have happened so suddenly after she was disconnected from life support, saying that two weeks would have been a more reasonable estimate.

Gianluigi Gigli, head of a group called For Eluana, called what has happened strange.

Senators both for and against are agreeing to work quickly on legislation that will make sense of the issues at hand.

Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi said that there's a will to urgently agree on end-of-life legislation.

The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that it is angered by what has happened.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the conference of Italian bishops, said that a just law was necessary for the good of Italian society and civilisation.

But polls showed a divided Italy when it came to the issue at hand. Some expressed relief, and support for euthanasia.

Rome resident Laura Lichieri said she was happy Englaro's suffering was over, that there was nothing that could have been done, and that Englaro deserved a peaceful death.

 

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