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Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Italy woman sent to clinic to die

Eluana Englaro, in an undated image released by her family
Ms Englaro is said to have opposed being kept alive artificially

A woman at the centre of the right-to-die debate in Italy has been moved to a clinic where she will be allowed to die after 17 years in a vegetative state.

Eluana Englaro was transferred by ambulance overnight to the private facility in the northern city of Udine.

The Vatican and anti-euthanasia groups have strongly opposed the move.

In November, Italy's highest court ruled Ms Englaro's feeding tubes could be withdrawn, but the health ministry then warned state clinics not to do it.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to the debate about euthanasia, calling it a "false solution" to the tragedy of suffering.

"The true response cannot be to give death, even if it is seemingly more soothing, but to show the love that can help people face pain and agony in a human way," he said in his weekly address.

But the pope did not mention Ms Englaro, 37, who has been in a permanent vegetative state since a car crash in 1992.

Her father, Beppino, has been battling with the courts in Italy to let her die since 1999, insisting it was her wish.

Court battle

The ambulance carrying Ms Englaro left the Catholic clinic in the northern town of Lecco, near Milan, at around 0130 (0030 GMT).

A small crowd of anti-euthanasia activists gathered outside the building and tried to prevent the vehicle from leaving. Some of the protesters shouted "Eluana, wake up", and "Don't kill her".

Anti-euthanasia protesters outside the clinic in Lecco (3 February 2009)
Italy does not allow euthanasia although patients can refuse treatment

In July, a court in Milan ruled that doctors had proved Ms Englaro's coma was irreversible. It also accepted that, before the accident, she had expressed a preference for dying over being kept alive artificially.

State prosecutors appealed against the ruling, but the Court of Cassation in Rome ruled the challenge inadmissible in November.

The Italian health ministry subsequently issued an order barring all hospitals in the region from withdrawing Ms Englaro's life support, but this was overruled by a court in Milan on 21 January.

A private geriatric clinic in Udine then said it would receive her and allow her to die.

Italian Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi said the government was investigating her transfer.

The Vatican's Health Minister, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, described the decision to move her as "abominable".

"Stop this murder!" he told the newspaper, La Repubblica.

Italy does not allow euthanasia. Patients have a right to refuse treatment, but they are not allowed to give advance directions on what treatment they wish to receive if they become unconscious.

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