Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Italy seeks clarity on euthanasia

Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi is comforted by European Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi at the announcement of the death of Eluana Englaro
Senators were shocked when news of the death came through

Italy's politicians have said they will create new right-to-die laws, as the country absorbs the death of a woman whose case became a cause celebre.

Eluana Englaro, 38, died on Monday night, only a few days after doctors removed her feeding tubes. She had been in a coma since 1992.

Her death was announced as the Senate was about to debate an emergency bill designed to keep her alive.

The emotive case inspired protests from both sides, and much soul-searching.

Italy's leading newspapers devoted several pages to the issue on Tuesday.

Many were highly critical of politicians they said tried to make political capital from the case, says the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome.

The centre-left Repubblica newspaper said Ms Englaro was reduced to a symbol in a battle for power.

Bitter rift

The flag flew at half-mast over the Senate, where senators had stood for a minute's silence on hearing of Ms Englaro's death.

But no sooner was the minute over, than the fierce rift between the politicians reappeared, with conservative senators shouting "murderers" at their opponents.

Worshippers kneel in prayer inside the Basilica of San Nicolo in Lecco, northern Italy, after the announcement of the death of Eluana Englaro
Catholics have been among the fiercest opponents of a "right to die"

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed similar sentiments.

"Eluana did not die a natural death, she was killed," he said, blaming President Giorgio Napolitano for blocking his emergency decree that would have forced doctors to resume feeding her.

"Napolitano made a serious mistake," Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.

The president had said the prime minister had acted unconstitutionally by attempting to overrule the courts, which had judged that Ms Englaro should be allowed to die, in accordance with her father's wishes.

'Just law' needed

Italian media cited records from the clinic in the northern town of Udine, saying Ms Englaro had died of cardiac arrest, though no autopsy had been performed.

Some anti-euthanasia activists asked why she died so quickly when some experts had said it might take two weeks for her to die.

Right-to-die activists hold banners in support of Beppino Englaro
Right-to-die activists have condemned the state for interfering

"Something very strange has happened," said Gianluigi Gigli, head of the For Eluana group.

Despite their differences, senators agreed to expedite work on a draft law to clarify end-of-life issues.

"There's a will to urgently agree on end-of-life legislation," Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi said.

The Roman Catholic Church, which was angered by the moves to withdraw Ms Englaro's life support, and prayed for God's "forgiveness" for those who "led her" to her death, agreed.

"A just law is necessary for the good of our society and our civilisation," said Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the powerful Italian bishops' conference.

Polls showed that Italians are divided on the issue of euthanasia.

But some expressed relief.

"I am happy her suffering is over, after reaching a point where there was just nothing to be done," Rome resident Laura Lichieri told the Reuters news agency.

"She deserved a peaceful death."

And one of the central figures in the drama, Ms Englaro's father Beppino, who campaigned for a decade to have her feeding tube disconnected, simply said: "I just want to be alone."

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