On Friday, February 6, the Italian government passed a temporary decree law drafted to prohibit the removal of food and hydration from vulnerable patients that, in particular, would prevent Eluana Englaro from being dehydrated to death. The decree has been approved by all necessary legislative bodies, however, Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic is refusing to sign off on the decree which would save Eluana’s life.
This declaration comes on the heels of Eluana’s move to a nursing clinic so that her food and hydration could be removed, causing her death by terminal thirst. Doctors say that the dehydration process will take two or more weeks. Eluana’s situation has frequently been compared to that of my sister Terri’s—in fact, she is being described as, “Italy’s, Terri Schiavo.”
Eluana has been receiving food and water via a feeding tube since a 1992 car crash that left her with a profound brain injury and—as was the case with my sister—Eluana is not brain dead, although both she and Terri are often described as such in the media. She merely suffers from a disability. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been seeking to end her life for nearly 10 years. A court ruling in July 2008 gave permission for the father to remove his daughter’s feeding tube.
Just as in Terri’s situation, Eluana is not dying and only needs food and water and the care of family or others to live. But despite the appeals and numerous obstacles trying to prevent the father from carrying out the court order, this most recent event will clear the way for Eluana’s feeding to stop and she will begin to experience an inhumane and unthinkable death by dehydration and starvation. In fact, as far as we know, this painful and degrading process has already begun.
The coverage of Eluana’s situation by American media has been abysmal. Up to this point the mainstream media have chosen not to report much of what has been taking place since the court ruling. They have been suspiciously (and, perhaps, conveniently) silent about how the Italian people, government, and doctors have been rallying around Eluana trying to stop her death from taking place. (The Italian media, by contrast, has reported the story in a manner consistent with journalistic ethics—that is to say, fairly.)
But here’s a big part of the story that has been missed that I hope will be emulated by health care professionals in American’s hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices: Italian medical professionals in Italy refused to participate in Eluana’s death by dehydration.
Subsequent to the July ruling, the nuns who were in charge of caring for Eluana refused to comply with the court order to starve and dehydrate her to death. Moreover, Roberto Formigoni, President of the Lombardy region where Eluana was being cared for, warned that doctors removing her food and hydration would face disciplinary action for "failing to honor commitments to the well-being of their patients."
This was followed by Italy’s Minister of Labour, Health and Social Policies, coming to Eluana’s aid issuing a caveat that it was ‘illegal’ for health care facilities funded by the government to remove food and hydration with the intention of killing a patient. Shortly thereafter, an open letter by 700 Italian physicians was made public asking that Eluana’s life be spared.
Sadly however, despite this outcry, it appears that Eluana is going to be killed by starvation and dehydration. What awaits her as this gruesome process plays out can only be described as horrifying.
Just last week, Pope Benedict reminded us that the act of euthanasia is not the answer to how we care for persons in conditions like Eluana and Terri, stating that, “it is a solution unworthy of mankind.” (Of course, I’m sure you can imagine my family’s relief upon hearing the Pope’s comments after self-proclaimed moral authority Keith Olbermann—former sports reporter—recently declaring that Terri’s euthanasia death was legally and morally correct.)
Vatican officials have also weighed in on Eluana’s situation with Cardinal Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health, stating that removing Eluana’s feeding tube was the “equivalent of an abominable act of murder.”
What happened to my sister during her slow and unimaginably horrible death by dehydration is something that no person should ever have to endure and no family should ever have to witness. That’s why these deaths by dehydration that are always done behind closed doors in the strictest secrecy. I wholeheartedly believe that if the public had been allowed to witness Terri’s suffering firsthand, the outcry would have deafened Florida and the world.