Landmark Cases Force Europe to Reconsider Right to Die | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.11.2008
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Landmark Cases Force Europe to Reconsider Right to Die

A top Italian court has allowed doctors to cut life support to a coma patient, though euthanasia isn't legal in the country. Meanwhile in Britain, a 13-year-old won the right to refuse a potentially life-saving surgery.

Two hands clasped together on a hospital bed

Having the right to die is a hotly debated topic across Europe

Italy's top appeals court on Thursday, Nov. 13, upheld a July ruling allowing for the removal of feeding tubes supporting a woman who has been in a coma for 16 years.

Thirty-five-year-old Eluana Englaro's case has fuelled controversy over euthanasia in mostly Catholic Italy where church authorities have spoken out against her elderly father Beppino's wish to terminate her life. Eluana fell into a coma after a 1992 car accident.

Beppino Englaro

Beppino Englaro has been fighting to take his daughter off life support for 16 years

Beppino Englaro welcomed the court ruling, saying it proved the "rule of law" existed in Italy, television news channel Sky TG24 reported. But Italy's Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano condemned the ruling.

"Some magistrates reject the need to safeguard human life by favoring more or less veiled forms of euthanasia and murder by consent," Mantovano was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

The ruling could bring to an end a long legal battle which has resonated through Italian society by pitting conservatives against those who say people should be allowed to choose what medical treatment they wish to receive and to specify this by means of "living wills."

While voluntarily terminating a life is forbidden, Italy's constitution grants patients the right to refuse medical treatment.

British girl refuses heart surgery

In another case this week, 13-year-old Hannah Jones from Britain was granted the right to refuse a heart surgery that could prolong her life. She was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four and later contracted cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart, as a result of the leukemia treatment.

Doctors told her that her only chance was a heart transplant, but the medication she would have to take would probably cause the leukemia to return.

Hannah's mother Kirsty said Hannah has already lived twice as long as the 6 months doctors gave when diagnosing the heart condition.

"So you just don't know what is coming round the corner," she added.

Hannah decided she'd had enough of being confined to a bed. Her parents accepted her decision, but the health authorities did not. Child protection officers were drafted in and threatened the Jones family with a court order to remove her from parents' custody and force her to undergo the transplant.

Hannah, however, convinced the authorities that she did not want a transplant and that she wanted to stay home with her family instead of going back to the hospital. They gave in.

Hannah will now to spend her remaining days with her parents and siblings Oliver, 11, Lucy, 10, and four year-old Phoebe, reports said.

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