7 Feb 2009

Clash over right-to-die case in Italy

12:57 pm on 7 February 2009

A political crisis is brewing in Italy where President Giorgio Napolitano has refused to sign a decree ordering doctors to keep a comatose woman alive.

Itallian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi issued an emergency decree to prevent the family of a woman who has been in a vegetative state for 17 years from having her feeding tubes disconnected.

The BBC reports the woman's father has won a protracted court battle giving him the right to instruct an Italian hospital to allow her to die.

Eluana Englaro, 38, has been in a coma since a car crash in 1992.

This week Beppino Englaro 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 Ms Englaro should be allowed to die, confirming a previous ruling by a lower court that her coma was irreversible. 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.

Cabinet decree

However, the cabinet has issued a decree barring doctors from stopping nutrition, effectively over-ruling the courts. President Napolitano has refused to sign the decree.

Mr Berlusconi responded by summoning a new cabinet meeting late on Friday night to approve a draft bill to be sent to parliament, where he has a majority.