Italian minister announces death of 'right-to-die' woman


The comatose woman at the centre of an Italian right-to-die case has died tonight, the country's health minister said. Maurizio Sacconi announced Eluana Englaro's death in the Senate, which was debating a law that would have forced the clinic where she was hospitalised to resume feeding her.

The government had raised objections to the use of the facility as a place for 38-year-old Ms Englaro, in a vegetative state since a car crash in 1992, to end her life.

Doctors at the clinic in the northern city of Udine stopped feeding her on Friday, in line with a ruling by Italy's top court that she could be allowed to die.

Earlier, inspectors visited the Italian clinic that has stopped feeding Ms Englaro to check whether it was qualified to allow her to die in line with a court ruling.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, backed by the Vatican, was trying to block the implementation of the ruling, arguing that not feeding the patient amounts to euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

The Senate was today considering a law that would ban suspending food to patients who can no longer feed themselves.

Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi, who wants her kept alive, said an inspection at the weekend had reported "irregularities".

The case has split the mainly Catholic country and led to a constitutional crisis between Mr Berlusconi and the head of state. It also sparked a debate about whether, by siding openly with Mr Berlusconi, the Vatican was unduly interfering.

Mr Berlusconi issued an emergency decree of Friday ordering doctors to resume feeding Ms Englaro but the decree was rejected by President Giorgio Napolitano who said it was unconstitutional because it overruled the country's most senior judges.

The centre-right prime minister is pushing through parliament, where he has a large majority, the law that would ban suspending food to patients who can no longer feed themselves.

Ms Englaro's doctor, Carlo Alberto Defanti, had said that besides the irreversible damage to her brain, her physical condition was good and it could take two weeks from the suspension of food before her heart stopped.