The Civil Court of Appeals in Milan ruled this week that the father of Eluana Englaro, an Italian woman who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years after a car accident in 1992, can discontinue the food and hydration that is keeping her alive, which would condemn her to the same agonizing death suffered by the American Terri Schiavo.
The 37 year-old Eluana is from the town of Lecco. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been fighting the courts for 10 years to remove her feeding tubes, arguing that this would have been his daughter’s wish.
The court has ruled Eluana’s condition is “irreversible” and that she may be denied food and hydration. Her father has the option of asking doctors to pull her feeding tubes immediately or to wait until the 60-day period for the state to appeal the ruling has expired.
Adriano Pessina, Director of the Atheneum Center of Bioethics at the Catholic University of Milan, called the ruling a “grave decision” that ignores the principle that human life is not disposable as well as the duty of civil society to not legitimize the denial of therapeutic treatment to citizens who are not able to care for themselves.
The patient’s guardian is thus given true life or death power over the person entrusted to him, contradicting the meaning of guardianship itself, he said. “It is inconceivable that the best thing for someone could be death, which must never be treated as a good that should be protected,” Pessina explained.
“Suspending ordinary treatment such as that which is given to a patient in a vegetative state on the basis of ruling that has no clinical foundation” does not take into account “the fundamental duty to care for patients who are not capable of understanding the decision or desiring it,” he added.
Pessina said the ruling legitimized euthanasia and that it was unacceptable to define the life of someone who is in a vegetative state as “purely biological.” “Human consciousness does not define personal identity but rather simply manifests it. For this reason, the care of persons in a vegetative state is a duty,” he said.
“We hope this ruling is not implemented and we again ask Mr. Beppino Englaro to allow Eluana to continue to live,” Pessina said, noting that other parents caring for vegetative persons will be greatly impacted by the outcome.
Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, reacted to the news of the court ruling by expressing his sympathy for the Englaro family’s situation. “Our heart goes out to this family as we know very well the profound affect that these types of injuries can have on loved ones.”
Yet, Schindler said that ending Eluana’s life is not the solution and called on those responsible for her to remember that “we have a grave obligation to do all we can to protect those with disabilities, recognizing that a person with a brain injury is a human being with an inherent dignity and a right to life.”
“This young girl needs only food and water and her family’s love to survive. At the very least this should be provided to her,” Schindler said.