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EXP-ITALY-FEEDING-TUB 02-09

DEATH ENDS COMA CASE THAT SET OFF FUROR IN ITALY

By RACHEL DONADIO

(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times.)

c.2009 New York Times News Service

ROME — The woman at the center of a right-to-die battle gripping Italy died Monday in a private clinic, ending a case that divided the nation and ignited a debate among Italian leaders and the Vatican.

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Italy’s health minister, Maurizio Sacconi, announced the death of the woman, Eluana Englaro, 38, to senators holding an emergency session to debate a bill aimed at keeping her on a feeding tube, Italian news media reported. In response, some senators shouted, "Assassins!"

Englaro was moved last week to a private clinic in Udine, in northeast Italy, that agreed to remove the feeding tube after other public clinics refused. On Friday, doctors began reducing her nutrition intake as protesters gathered outside to pray for her.

Dr. Carlo Alberto Defanti, a neurologist who followed her case for years, said she had died suddenly of "unexpected" causes, according to the Corriere della Sera, the Italian newspaper. As recently as Monday morning, doctors said Englaro was in stable condition. A court is expected to decide Tuesday whether an autopsy will be conducted, Italian news media said.

Englaro had been in a persistent vegetative state since a car accident in 1992. Her father fought repeatedly in court for the right to remove the tube, saying it was his daughter’s wish not to be kept alive artificially. The Catholic Church was vehemently opposed to removing Englaro’s feeding tube, saying it was tantamount to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

The intense polemics and deep divisions over the case drew comparisons to the case of Terri Schiavo in the United States. Schiavo was allowed to die in 2005 after a long legal battle by her husband to remove her feeding tube.

On Friday, when Englaro’s feeding tube was to be withdrawn, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Cabinet introduced an emergency measure forbidding the removal. The decree circumvented a high court decision, and Berlusconi submitted it even though President Giorgio Napolitano had called it unconstitutional and damaging to the balance of powers in Italy. Napolitano said he would not sign the measure.

Instead, late Friday, the emergency measure was drafted into a bill, and the Senate was considering it Monday when Englaro’s death was announced.

Italy has no legislation on end-of-life issues and does not recognize living wills.

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