Italy’s Right to Die

Lisa Fantino Westchester Attorney

Lisa Fantino Westchester Attorney


This morning, while America slept, a comatose woman passed away in Italy. She will never make headlines here but in a country where God and country take on almost fanatical debate, at times, her death has sparked arguments on the floor of parliament and pitted the country’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, against its President, Giorgio Napolitano.

38-year-old Eluana Englaro had been in a coma for 19 years since a car accident left her living on machines. Her doctors said she would not survive without them. Her family’s decision to ask doctors to stop feeding her was supported by Italy’s highest court but opposed by Berlusconi. The Prime Minister went so far as to issue an emergency decree ordering doctors to resume feeding her by tubes; however, Napolitano refused to sign the decree as unconstitutional.

Englaro had been kept alive by artificial means for most of her life; technically, she had been dead longer than she had been alive. What an unfathomable agony for a family to watch their once beautiful and vivacious teenager whittle away and remain the focus of an ugly debate between lawmakers and the Vatican in this fervently devout Catholic country. Where is the dignity in her right to die?

No one who has not walked in the shoes of the Englaro family has the right to legislate what should be done with their little girl. The plug should be pulled on political……..and religious…….fanaticism that has nothing to do with the love of God and families should not have to be labeled as “murderers” for wanting to peacefully end a life they cherished until God took it from them 19 years ago, for the love of God!

Lawmakers are not God and do not have the right to decide life and death. Machines are not God and should not be used to artificially maintain a life that cannot exist on its own, to do so elevates both men and machines to the level of God and that in itself is a sin and a crime!

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6 thoughts on “Italy’s Right to Die

  1. Ciao Lisa!
    Thank you for writing this post and talking about this issue to an American audience. It has continued to receive a remarkable amount of press here in Italy. The debate is far from over. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this difficult topic!

    • Laura, this is a difficult topic for any audience; however I think in Italy, because of the strong influence of the Vatican, it is especially difficult. I just hope that those who are so adamantly against someone’s right to die never have to face making that difficult decision for a loved one because it is so much easier when the patient’s wishes are clearly known and recognized. I am firmly of the belief that there is nothing natural, nor heroic, about tying someone to a machine and life should just be allowed to take its course.

  2. Lisa,
    I agree!
    My mother had a massive stroke and there was nothing heroic watching her dehydrate herself to death for almost two weeks. Praying every minute that the one who gave you life would go quickly. Those are difficult choices and should be made by loveones and not by religious or political asses.

  3. Thank you for the distinction and I totally agree with you. I never saw kidney dialysis machines, incubators and pacemakers as extraordinary but they are and they may be distinguished from heroic. Incubators are a temporary measure and hopefully dialysis machines are as well. But anyone who has watched someone dehydrate/starve to death knows there is nothing heroic about it and no one except their loved ones, or themselves via properly drafted directives/proxies, should be allowed to make those decisions for them.

  4. “Machines are not God and should not be used to artificially maintain a life that cannot exist on its own”

    I disagree. Kidney dialysis, pacemakers, and neonatal incubators are all artificial means of preserving a life that cannot otherwise exist.

    The debate that surrounds this (and the Terry Schiavo issue) is, in my view, the dumbing down of “extraordinary means” of keeping people alive into “artificial means” of sustaining life. Even the Vatican allows for the removal of heroic measures, which, I would define as something the removal of which would immediately cause death. However, there is nothing heroic or extraordinary about food. The only thing artifical about it is that the person cannot lift a fork or glass by themself.

    Removal of feeding tubes does not technically starve the person, they dehydrate. Dehydration is a slow, gruesome means of killing, and there is no guarantee that they don’t suffer. This is a touchy issue, but the biggest non-human casualty in the debate is the distinction between that which is extraordinary, heroic, & optional and that which is normal and reasonable.

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