July 31, 2008 / 8:03 PM / in 11 years

Right-to-die case faces legal challenge in Italy

ROME (Reuters) - State prosecutors in Italy lodged an appeal on Thursday against a court ruling authorising a man to remove the feeding tube which has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years.

The ruling by a Milan court earlier this month, a first in Italy, was condemned by the Vatican and Catholic politicians, mainly on the centre right, as justifying euthanasia.

Eluana Englaro, 37, has been in a vegetative state and receiving food and water artificially at a hospital in the northern Italian town of Lecco since a 1992 car crash.

Her father Beppino Englaro has been seeking an end to the life support for nearly 10 years.

Since the ruling on July 9, he has been trying to find a hospice willing to permit the removal of the feeding tube. Euthanasia is illegal in Italy.

State prosecutors said they had asked Italy’s top court to suspend the ruling until their case is heard.

Italy’s lower house of parliament had earlier on Thursday approved a resolution saying the Milan judges had no right to authorise the removal of the feeding tube and that it was up to lawmakers to legislate on bioethical matters.

A vote on the same resolution will be held in the Senate on Friday. If, as expected, it is approved, the Constitutional Court will also be asked to rule on whether the Milan court has overstepped its boundaries.

Explaining their decision, the Milan judges said it had been proven Englaro’s coma was irreversible and that before the accident she had stated her preference to die rather than being kept alive artificially.

The Vatican has called the Milan ruling a “grave” verdict, saying no Italian court had ever authorised such a request before. Pro-euthanasia activists hailed the ruling as historic, but Italian political leaders were split over the case.

The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state and was allowed to die after a long court battle.

Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Andrew Roche

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