Italy government, president clash on right-to-die case

Fri Feb 6, 2009 2:45pm EST
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By Silvia Aloisi and Francesca Piscioneri

ROME (Reuters) - A right-to-die case that has split Italy turned into a political crisis for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday when the country's president refused to sign his decree ordering doctors to keep a comatose woman alive.

The Vatican, which believes that stopping feeding the woman would be tantamount to euthanasia, sided with the government and criticized President Giorgio Napolitano in a rare clash with the head of state of this mainly Catholic country.

Eluana Englaro, 38, has been in a coma since a car crash in 1992 and has been called "Italy's Terri Schiavo" -- the American who spent 15 years in a vegetative state and was allowed to die in 2005 after a long court battle.

This week Englaro's father, who has battled his way through Italy's courts for more than 10 years, took her to a new hospice that agreed to stop nutrition after several other clinics refused because they feared retaliation.

Italy's top court ruled last year Englaro should be allowed to die, confirming a previous ruling by a lower court that her coma was irreversible and that before the accident she had stated her preference not to be kept alive artificially.

Doctors at the clinic began withdrawing food and water on Friday in line with that ruling.

But Berlusconi's cabinet quickly issued a decree barring doctors from stopping nutrition, effectively over-ruling the country's top judges.

"It's a never-ending torment," said Beppino Englaro, the woman's father.   Continued...

<p>Car accident victim Eluana Englaro, who has been in a coma for 16 years, poses in an undated family photo in Lecco. REUTERS/Handout</p>