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Comatose woman in euthanasia debate dies

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Woman in coma for 17 years in Italy has died, her father says
  • Eluana Englaro has been in vegetative state since a car crash
  • Her father has fought for years to have her feeding tube removed
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By Alessio Vinci
CNN
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- An Italian woman who had been in a coma for 17 years and whose right-to-die case was being debated in the Italian Parliament has died days after doctors began removing her feeding tube.

A portrait of Eluana Englaro. Englaro has been in a vegetative state for nearly 17 years.

A portrait of Eluana Englaro. She was in a vegetative state for nearly 17 years.

The speaker of the Italian Senate announced the death of Eluana Englaro, 37, Monday night, then called for a moment of silence in the chamber.

Even as the silence ended, one legislator declared, "She has not died -- she was killed," prompting other right-to-die opponents to join in with calls of "Murderers!"

Englaro had been in a vegetative state for 17 years, after suffering what doctors determined to be irreversible brain damage in a 1992 car crash, when she was 20 years old.

For years, Englaro's father, Beppino, fought to have her feeding tube removed, saying it would be a dignified end to his daughter's life. He said 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 if she were ever in the same state.

Confirming his daughter's death Monday, Beppino Englaro told Italian media: "Yes, she is no longer with us, but I don't want to say anything further. I need to be left alone."

But the intense debate swirling around her case will go on. Video Watch as Italians protest against her death »

When Englaro's death was announced, the Senate was debating a proposed law that would require doctors to provide nourishment to all incapacitated patients, and that would have forced doctors to resume feeding Englaro through tubes.

Debate on that proposal as it would affect other patients is likely to continue in Parliament.

Last year, a court ruled that the feeding tube could be removed, and Italy's high court upheld the ruling on appeal.

Englaro was transferred last week to a private clinic, where the removal process began Friday -- even as the Senate took up a debate aimed at reversing that process.

A decree aimed at preventing doctors from completely removing the feeding tube was passed unanimously Friday by Italy's Council of Ministers, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leading the effort.

"I will do everything I can to save her life," Berlusconi said. "We have to do everything possible to stop a person from dying."

But President Giorgio Napolitano refused to sign the decree. According to a statement from Napolitano's office, "An emergency decree cannot be in contrast with a court decision."

The case has been a controversial one in Italy, a heavily Catholic country where the Vatican has great influence. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims that "euthanasia is a false solution to suffering."

Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Friday that Englaro had the right to be kept alive.

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"It is the duty of the doctors, of society, and of the political institutions to administer her essential foods to keep her alive. No one has the right to take her life away from her," he said.

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 some time before her accident she had expressed the wish not to be kept alive while in a coma -- indirectly refusing treatment, he said.

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