Italian senate debates right-to-die
Politicians to discuss bill that would force doctors to resume feeding of comatose woman.
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2009 17:36 GMT

There have been several demonstrations against Berlusconi and his government's decision [AFP]

A health commission in Italy's senate has begun debating a bill that would force doctors to resume feeding a woman who has been in a vegetative state since a car accident 17 years ago.

On Friday, doctors at the La Quiete clinic in Udine stopped feeding 38-year-old Eluana Englaro, in line with a ruling by Italy's high court allowing her to die.

The decision has divided Italy, with Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, and the Catholic church leading efforts to keep her alive.

Berlusconi is trying to push a law through parliament that would forbid medics from withholding food and water to patients and effectively reverse the high court ruling.

The prime minister's supporters have a large majority in parliament and could pass the legislation later this week.

Clinic inspection

The senate, which is due to begin debating the bill on Monday evening, could approve the bill as early as Tuesday, with the lower house following a few days after that.

"I still believe that saving Eluana is possible," Maurizio Sacconi, Berlusconi's health minister, told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday.

"This is all part of a much bigger fight between Berlusconi and the other powers of the state"

James Watson,
political analyst

In another move that could be aimed at preventing Englaro's death, inspectors have visited the Italian clinic she is staying in to check whether it is qualified to allow her to die.

Sacconi said an inspection at the weekend had reported "irregularities", and that it did not meet the requirements of the court ruling, which called for Englaro to die in a hospice, rather than a clinic. 

Berlusconi criticised

Englaro's father has accused the Berlusconi of playing politics with his daughter's tragic situation.

"It was a coup de theatre. All I can say is that sometimes reality goes way beyond the wildest imagination," Beppino Englaro told Spain's El Pais newspaper.

He also hit out at the Vatican for openly siding with the prime minister.

"The [Roman Catholic] church has nothing to do with this issue," Englaro said, adding that he felt the church should not "impose its values" on him.

In an address at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI told his followers that life should be protected.

"Although disease is part of the human experience we can't get used to it, not only because sometimes it becomes a really heavy and serious burden, but also essentially because we are made for life," he said.

'Moral principles'

Berlusconi has said that he will not allow the "killing" of Englaro and that the decision to stop feeding her amounts to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

Berlusconi has said that he will not allow the 'killing' of Englaro [AFP]
"I can guarantee on my honour and that of my ministers, that our decision was based on moral principles and there was never a plan to attack anybody," he said.

The issue has put the prime minister in conflict with Giorgio Napolitano, Italy's president, who on Friday refused to sign an emergency cabinet decree that would have prevented medics from removing Englaro's feeding tube.

"This is all part of a much bigger fight between Berlusconi and the other powers of the state, the judiciary in particular, the president as we saw last week and parliament," James Watson, an Italy-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

"He has used this issue in order to increase the prime ministerial powers at the expense of the judiciary."

Medical experts say it could take more than two weeks for Englaro's heart to stop, but that the suspension of food and water will have irreversible effects on her weakened body in a matter of days.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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