Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ELUANA'S MIRACLE?

I have just been helping a private student gather information on the Eluana Englaro case and the fact that she had been set this task is an indication, I think, that this heartbreaking yet very political story is not going to drop out of the Italian headlines any time soon. I am aware that the background to the story, and Eluana’s death, have been reported in Britain but for those of you who do not know of it the situation is as follows:

Eluana was left in a persistent vegetative state following a car accident in 1992, when she was 19. After 9 years, her father asked for her feeding tube to be removed so that she could die naturally, a request which was denied by two courts. In July 2008 the Milan Court of Appeal decided that Eluana’s father had the right to have the tube removed. This decision turned very much upon the fact that Eluana had apparently stated that she would not wish to be kept alive in such circumstances. There was an immediate outcry from the political Right and the Catholic Church. The nation was said to be split more or less fifty-fifty over what would be the moral and humane course of action. Then the Italian Parliament took the case to the Cassazione, the Final Court of Appeal, on the grounds that the Milan Court ruling would change existing legislation. The appeal was rejected. In November the High Court stated definitively that Eluana’s father could have the tube removed, again to resounding criticism from the Vatican. Prime Minister Berlusconi then issued a decree which would have forced doctors to continue treatment. However, President Napolitano refused to sign it. Eluana had by then been moved to a private hospital in Udine to have the feeding stopped and there she sadly died, earlier than expected, on February 9th, just as Parliament was debating new legislation based on the Berlusconi decree.

Since then, all sorts of outrageous allegations have been flying around, the Pope has referred to the case indirectly and the country continues to discuss it. This article from the British journal The Economist concludes that the situation shows us two aspects of modern Italy: Berlusconi’s attitude to the judiciary and the considerable power of the Catholic Church.

My own conclusions would be slightly different: Firstly, whatever Berlusconi’s political motives might have been , he is a right-wing Catholic and we must expect him to react as such. Pointing to shortcomings in his private life would only provoke the reaction, “What has that got to do with it?” here. Secondly, although I am not a Catholic – indeed, I am not anything that I can define for you with regard to religion – I do see the Catholic Church as a safeguard in cases like this. Thirdly, the fact that nearly 50% of those polled thought that Eluana should have been allowed to die naturally shows that attitudes are changing, for this would not have been the result even a decade ago. And finally, from my discussions over the past week or so I would say that Italy is very much a country that still believes in miracles. Sometimes they do happen and perhaps, for Eluana, there was one on February 9th.

8 comments:

Gledwood said...

I don't understand where's the issue when someone's being kept alive ARTIFICIALLY, to remove the tube or whatever ~ is a non-issue for me

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Gleds, in Italy removing the feeding tube is regarded as euthanasia, which is illegal. Withdrawal of treatment at a patient's request is legal, but feeding by tube is not regarded as "treatment" here.

Winchester whisperer said...

It is very sad. Was there any cooment in the press about how many people who've been in a coma do actually wake up years later?

jmb said...

Well a feeding tube is actually medical treatment and cannot be inserted without consent, either by the patient or a legal representative.

It was a decision I researched when I had the legal care of my friend and he was losing the ability to swallow. After a lot of research I had decided it was extraordinary means and he had specified that they should not be used to keep him alive. Fortunately I did not have to actually deliver my decision to the medical personnel since he succumbed naturally before it was required, thank goodness.

That case is indeed sad and a dilemma for all concerned. Obviously not even the law was clear as there were so many conflicting decisions.

A'Jay said...

Ahhh my own beliefs are that state nor church should meddle in cases such as this... I also recognise that its and emotive subject and I respect others views on it...

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Ww. I haven't seen any but I will check back. Hi, jmb. Interesting how the perception of what is "treatment" varies from country to country. It must have been awful for you thinking you might have to deliver your decision to the doctors and I do understand what you went through. This case is terribly sad for all concerned and now it is being used politically. Hi, A'Jay. Yes, a terrible dilemma.

Betty (picture circa 1954) said...

When I read this I couldn't help but think about the Karen Ann Quinlan case in the US back in the 70's. I think it was one of the first right to die cases in this country. Her parents wanted the ventilator removed...she was brain dead. It went to court and took forever. Finally, they were allowed to remove the ventilator, but by that time the brain stem had recovered enough to maintain life. They elected to keep her on a feeding tube. Sadly, she lived for a number of years. It was a very controversial case in this country at that time. I believe that's why we have living wills now.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks for that information, Betty. What a sad case you describe. But then, all these cases are tragic. People are talking about living wills in Italy at the moment.

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