When one month ago the Corte di Cassazione, Italy's top appeals court, authorized the father of 37-year-old Eluana Englaro to remove the feeding tube which had kept his comatose daughter alive for nearly seventeen years, the last legal obstacle in a landmark “right-to-die” case—it has been also called ‘Italy’s Terri Schiavo case’—seemed to have been removed once and for all. Not only had a step on the road to legal euthanasia been taken, Eluana would also have died an atrocious death by being deprived of water and nutrition.
Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, described allowing Eluana Englaro to die as an “immense crime” and a “civil and moral defeat.” And he was absolutely right, according to both Catholics and pro-life lay politicians and opinion leaders.
At that point, what remained to be done was to find a hospital or a clinic willing to grant Eluana Englaro its “help.” And that’s what happened a few days ago, when a public-funded Udine clinic offered to help end Eluana’s life. A team of 20-25 professionals from outside the clinic, said Director Claudio Riccobon, were willing to look after Eluana on an unpaid voluntary basis.
But that was not going to be the last word: the transfer was halted at the last minute a couple of days ago, after Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi issued an official guideline stating that the suspension of treatment for patients in a vegetative state in public health institutions is “illegal.” It was actually a courageous move on his part, which was hailed with satisfaction by Catholics and pro-life citizens, but provoked immediate and indignant protests by the counterpart. In turn, the president emeritus of Italy’s Constitutional Court, Antonio Baldassare, told newspaper Corriere della Sera that Sacconi’s guideline ”is valid for everyone except Eluana” because the Cassation Court had issued a specific ruling on Eluana Englaro’s case.
So it seems that we are still facing a controversial juridical issue. But that of Eluana Englaro is not just a purely juridical case. It’s a matter of life or death for Eluana, and, I would add, for civilization itself. That is why I think Maurizio Sacconi is doing a great job.
[Previous posts on Eluana Englaro's case: 'Let Eluana Englaro live!' and Italy's Terri Schiavo case]