Eluana Englaro, the comatose woman whose case sparked a fierce right-to-die debate in Italy, died on Monday, Feb. 9, as the country's parliament fought over a controversial government bill aimed at keeping her alive.
The Eluana Englaro case has split predominantly Catholic Italy
The 38-year-old Englaro died shortly after 1900 GMT, at an old persons' home in the north eastern city of Udine.
Her death came four days after doctors, acting on a court order, disconnected tubes supplying her body with nutrients and water.
"We pray for her and ask forgiveness to the Lord for all they have done to her," the Vatican's top health affairs official, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.
The case of Englaro, who spent the last 17 years in a vegetative state after a car accident, has fuelled discussion in predominantly Catholic Italy over euthanasia and its legal ramifications.
Dying with dignity
Englaro died at an old people's homes in Udine
In July 2008 Italy's top appeals court, the Cassation, upheld a ruling in favour of Englaro's father and legal guardian, Beppino, who had engaged in a more than decade-long legal battle for the right of his daughter to "die with dignity."
Following the announcement of Englaro's death, Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi said the government would press ahead with the bill, which had been drafted and tabled in parliament earlier on Monday to overturn the Cassation ruling.
The bill specifies that people who are not able to communicate cannot be deprived of food and water.
But Sacconi, who in recent months had spearheaded attempts to block the father's attempts to find a medical facility willing to carry out the court order -- including threatening disciplinary action against doctors -- was more reconciliatory on Monday night.
"From our side, there has always been comprehension for the choices made by Eluana's father even if we did not share them," Sacconi said.
Tensions run high
Beppino Englaro fought for years to have his daughter's feeding tube removed
Elsewhere however, tensions ran high over the issue which for days has received blanket media coverage in Italy.
On news of the death, outside the La Quiete old persons' home pro-life activists began chanting "Murderers!" at a group of Beppino Englaro's supporters.
Similar scenes occurred in parliament's upper-house, the Senate, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government and the centre-left opposition have been bitterly divided over the issue.
"Eluana did not die, she was killed," shouted Gaetano Quagliarello a senior lawmaker in Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, as he addressed the opposition.
"We are witnessing yet another attempt at political scavenging," retorted the center-left Democratic Party Senate leader, Anna Finocchiaro. She also said her party, the largest in the opposition, would no longer participate in the debate over the bill.
The pro-life Vatican sided with Italy's prime minister
Berlusconi introduced the bill after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday refused to sign a government decree that would have immediately blocked attempts to terminate Englaro's life.
Napolitano, who as head of state has a say on constitutional matters, motivated his decision on the grounds that the decree would have interfered with a procedure approved by Italy's independent judiciary.
But Roman Catholic Church officials, conservative politicians and others who have campaigned to keep Englaro alive, say the court order amounted to euthanasia, a procedure not permitted under Italian law.
While voluntarily terminating a life is forbidden, Italy's constitution also grants patients the right to refuse medical treatment.
Some activists are campaigning for legislation allowing the introduction of "living wills" whereby people can state what type of medical treatment they wish to receive