The woman at the center of a right-to-die battle gripping Italy died on Monday in a private clinic, ending a case that divided the nation and ignited a debate among Italian leaders and the Vatican.
Italian Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi announced the death of the woman, Eluana Englaro, 38, to senators holding an emergency session to debate a bill aimed at keeping her on a feeding tube, Italian news media reported. In response, some senators shouted: “Assassins!”
Englaro was moved last week to a private clinic in Udine, in northeast Italy, that agreed to remove the feeding tube after other public clinics refused. On Friday, doctors began reducing her nutrition intake as protesters gathered outside to pray for her.
Carlo Alberto Defanti, a neurologist who followed her case for years, said she had died suddenly of “unexpected” causes, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said. As recently as Monday morning, doctors said Englaro was in stable condition. A court is expected to decide yesterday whether an autopsy will be conducted, Italian news media said.
Englaro had been in a persistent vegetative state since a car accident in 1992. Her father fought repeatedly in court for the right to remove the tube, saying it was his daughter’s wish not to be kept alive artificially. The Catholic Church was vehemently opposed to removing Englaro’s feeding tube, saying it was tantamount to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.
The intense polemics and deep divisions over the case drew comparisons to the case of Terri Schiavo in the US. Schiavo was allowed to die in 2005 after a long legal battle by her husband to remove her feeding tube.
On Friday, when Englaro’s feeding tube was to be withdrawn, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Cabinet introduced an emergency measure forbidding the removal. The decree circumvented a high court decision, and Berlusconi submitted it even though Italian President Giorgio Napolitano had called it unconstitutional and damaging to the balance of powers in Italy. Napolitano said he would not sign the measure.
Instead, late on Friday, the emergency measure was drafted into a bill and the Senate was considering it on Monday when Englaro’s death was announced.