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Eluana Englaro, chronicle of a death foretold: ethical considerations on the recent right-to-die case in Italy


In 1992, Eluana Englaro was involved in a car accident in Italy that eventually left her in a permanent vegetative state requiring artificial nutrition and hydration. This paper, after briefly reviewing Eluana's case, gives a chronicle of Eluana last months until her death on 9 February 2009, and discusses the right-to-die controversy in Italy. For many years, Mr Englaro, Eluana's father, would litigate to enforce what he considered to be his daughter's wish to discontinue life-prolonging treatment. In July 2008, the Court of Appeal of Milan has given its authorisation for artificial life support to be withdrawn. This ruling sparked a crusade, led by the government and the Vatican, against the court and Eluana's father, which included insinuations that the latter was murdering his daughter. Public opinion has overwhelmingly been sympathetic to the father's difficult decision, in stark contrast to the reactionary stance taken by the government. With the notable advances of medicine, doctors are increasingly faced with ethical issues. The vegetative state is just one of the many clinical conditions that obligate health professionals to reflect on ethical matters. The withdrawal of life-supporting care, and of artificial nutrition and hydration in particular in permanent vegetative state patients remains a measure which violates a tradition and a consolidated practice. It was thus inevitable that it would create great controversy. We should work towards making a decision process that ensures that continuation or suspension of artificial nutrition and hydration follows an explicit procedure, promoting the sharing and respect of the diverse moral responsibility of family members, nursing and medical staff.

  • Permanent vegetative state
  • end-of-life
  • ethics
  • artificial nutrition and hydration
  • religious ethics
  • quality/value of life/personhood
  • social control of science
  • moral and religious aspects
  • prolongation of life and euthanasia

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