(CNN) -- A woman who has been in a vegetative state for nearly 17 years was transferred to a private clinic Tuesday where she is expected to die -- ending what has been a lengthy and controversial legal fight.
A portrait of Eluana Englaro. She has been in a vegetative state for nearly 17 years.
Eluana Englaro suffered irreversible brain damage in a car crash in 1992, when she was 20 years old. For years, her father has fought to have her feeding tube removed, saying it would be a dignified end to his daughter's life.
Beppino Englaro says that before the crash, his daughter visited a friend who was in a coma and told him she didn't want the same thing to happen to her should she ever be in the same state.
Euthanasia is illegal in Italy, but patients have the right to refuse treatment. It is on that basis that Englaro argued his daughter should be allowed to die, because she had expressed the wish not to be kept alive while in a coma -- indirectly refusing treatment, he said.
"We knew Eluana well, and we always thought of her as a champion of freedom," her father said in October. "She had clear ideas about her life and for her, life was about freedom -- not an obligation to live."
A series of legal battles finally ended in November, when Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation, upheld a lower court ruling allowing Englaro to suspend his daughter's treatment.
But although Englaro had cleared the last legal hurdle, the court's decision sparked a new fight to find a hospital or clinic that would take out Eluana's feeding tube.
Several clinics initially came forward to say they could do it, but the Italian health minister then issued a decree to remind them of their duty of care. Under pressure to adhere to his decree, the clinics backed off.
Finally, a private clinic in the northeastern Italian city of Udine agreed to assist in Eluana's case.
Monday night, Eluana was transferred from the church-run hospital in Lecco, north of Milan, where she had been kept alive to the Udine clinic.
A handful of protesters tried to block the ambulance carrying Eluana from leaving the clinic, one of them holding a banner reading, "Only thieves and assassins act at night."
The case has been a controversial one in Italy, a heavily Catholic country where the Vatican has great influence.
Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims that "euthanasia is a false solution to suffering." Tuesday morning, a top Vatican official was quoted in the Italian media saying, "Stop the killer hands."
The Udine clinic says the removal of Eluana's tube will begin in about three days, and the process of allowing her to die will take about 20 days.
Clinic officials gave police an outline of the specific steps they are going to take with Eluana during that time. The outline adheres to the Cassation Court's ruling, which required certain steps and conditions once Eluana's feeding tube is removed.
Among the steps and conditions was a rule that no video or photography may be taken and that only certain people may enter the patient's room.
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