ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s top court has authorized a father to disconnect the feeding tube which has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years, removing the last legal hurdle in a landmark right-to-die case that has split the country.
Eluana Englaro, who is now 37, has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in northern Italy since a 1992 car crash.
Her father Beppino Englaro has been battling his way through Italy’s courts to seek an end to the life support for more than 10 years.
“This confirms that the rule of law still applies in this country,” he said after the verdict.
The Cassation Court rejected as “inadmissible” an appeal by state prosecutors against a July ruling by a lower tribunal in Milan, which had also authorized the removal of the tube — the first time a court in predominantly Catholic Italy had allowed the withdrawal of food and water from a comatose patient.
“It’s the gravest of decisions, involving an attack on life,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.
He told Vatican radio that the verdict effectively justified euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.
Pro-euthanasia activists hailed the verdict as historic, but political leaders were split over the case, with several Catholic lawmakers criticizing it.
“The Cassation Court is authorizing the first murder by the state,” said Luca Volonte of the Union of Christian Democrats.
Mara Carfagna, Equal Opportunities Minister in the center-right government, said removing the feeding tube amounted to killing the woman.
The Milan court said it had been proven that Englaro’s coma was irreversible and that before the accident she had stated her preference to die rather than be kept alive artificially.
The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state and was allowed to die in 2005 after a long court battle.
Italian media reports said Englaro’s father had already identified a hospice willing to remove the feeding tube, after being turned down by health centers in several regions of Italy.
Medical experts said it could take up to two weeks for Eluana to die once life support was removed, but that she would feel no pain.
Additional reporting by Virginia Alimenti; writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Mark Trevelyan