- Euthanasia : the case of Eluana Englaro
Eluana Englaro had spent 17 years in a persistent vegetative state following a car accident. Instead of resorting to discreetly terminating her care, as is commonly done in Italy, her father wanted to obtain judicial authorisation. The courts initially refused permission, but it was finally granted and even confirmed by the Court of Appeal, based on the principle of the girl’s presumed intent, reconstructed from information provided by her father.
It should be noted that Italy does not yet have a law on prolonging life and end-of-life care. A bill was presented by Ignazio Marino during the last Parliament on behalf of the centre-left government led by Romano Prodi, a Catholic. This very moderate text, corresponded roughly to legislation in force in France. However, the centre-right opposition, supported by Catholic bishops, prevented it from being passed.
Faced with the authorisation given by the Court allowing Eluana to die, the Catholic, conservative front of which Prime Minister Berlusconi himself had recently become leader, did everything to have the decision overturned. Regions governed by the centre-right, including Lombardy, refused to allow their hospitals to welcome the team responsible for letting Eluana die. Ministerial inspections were ordered. Finally, the government approved an emergency decree, although it was not countersigned by the Republic’s President Napolitano, because it contravened the separation of the executive and the judiciary enshrined in the Constitution. It was therefore amid the highest social and political tension - as well as institutional - that Eluana’s life was ended, after she was finally admitted to a hospital in Udine (a town in north-eastern Italy).
For Italian bishops, it is a crime. On several occasions they called the procedure euthanasia and attacked the judges responsible for the authorisation. They seem, however, less opposed than before to the possibility of having a law on the matter, with the centre-right ensuring compatibility between natural law and church doctrine. The Holy See also expressed its annoyance : Cardinal Barragan openly criticised President Napolitano ; Secretary of State Bertone called on Napolitano to express his personal reaction to attacks suffered at the hands of Berlusconi.
On the occasion of this controversy, 80 years after the Lateran Pacts, the debate on secularity in the country and its institutions has been revived. Bishops and some Catholic circles deplore the secularity of which the country is now victim. The opposition is increasing calls for mobilisation against the country’s future "vaticanisation" and against the perverse alliance between the libertine tycoon, the bishops and the Holy See.