Eluana, or Man’s Ultimate Freedom. Ending One’s Life. 1

A pro Euthanasia demostration before Italy's parliament in Rome

The case of Eluana has again sparked a heated debate in Italy about the right to end one’s life. Eluana Englaro’s sufferings ended on Feb 9 2009. Her family had requested the omission of treatment since their daughter had been kept artificially alive for 17 years.

Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi first tried to ‘save’ Eluana with a decree rejected by our President Napolitano. Thence he desperately tried to pass a bill before Eluana’s death. He arrived late. Now he’s about to pass a bill that will impose ‘artificial life’ indefinitely, despite the prior will of the person (the so-called ‘living will’, pre formulated in the event of incapacity) or the desire of the person’s family. This bill will be voted tonight at the Senate and at the lower house in the next days, despite the hostility of the Italian High Court and of the President of the Italian Republic.

(I’m translating Italian labyrinthine politics: this bill was about the ‘living will’ but a last minute prearranged amendment de facto nullified this will. Classic)

I wonder how many people in Italy (or abroad) really believe that Berlusconi and many politicians of his coalition are so religious. Many think – me included – that this is the umpteenth occasion they found to strengthen their grip on power and on institutions, since Berlusconi plans to change the Constitution and the support of the Catholic church in this country is always a powerful political factor.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

The Church and strict Catholics applaud. ‘Life’ to them must be saved at any cost.  I respect this belief and I respect the Catholic Church, which is somewhat a remnant of what was Rome, and the Pontifex Maximus, or Pope, the last surviving magistrate of ancient Rome.

But, if I respect Catholic beliefs, are strict Catholics respecting the beliefs of others?

I mean, in a free democratic state, how can a religion or a government impose their will on an individual or his family in such private matters? How can they trample on what is, to few (or to many,) their ultimate freedom, death? In name of what? Of so to say absolute truths believed only by a part of the population?

(We’ll skip the historical fact that the first Christians condoned suicide)

What if one belongs to another religion? What if one has no religion? Shouldn’t people be free thinking (and given free choice) and isn’t personal freedom enshrined in the Italian constitution?  (art. 13, inviolability of individual freedom)

Isn’t this an expropriation of our civil rights?

This is the problem with some people: all they want is power. This is also the problem with decent people who believe in absolute truths: these truths escape doubt and inquiry and, seen as undeniable, are considered by them mandatory also for those who don’t believe in them.

Ψ

This I’m thinking while watching on TV all these politicians, some sincere and some not, cheering about the upcoming victory of ‘life’.

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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I agree with your views on euthanasia. Its a totally private matter and the state or any religion should not interfere. To allow a person to suffer so much just to uphold some beliefs is ridiculous and surmounts to inhumanity itself!

    • Yes, true, you have much better expressed what I wanted to say: “to allow a person to suffer so much to uphold some beliefs” is a terrible thing. Who are they to choose for us? Thanks for popping in Reema.

      • I agree with Reema. Furthermore Eluana died 17 years ago not when she was unplugged. There have been some very few cases who kept breathing on their own but remained comatose after being removed from the respitator. Had Eluana not been already dead, she would have become one more such cases.

        • So I agree with both of you.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there doctors in Italy who refuse to end life? I saw it on the news here.

    • It is a complicated topic. See my reply to Sakhi. According to a 2008 *survey* in 6 European countries and Australia on end-of-life decision making (ELD) by physicians, Italy has resulted the least willing to perform ELDs, while the Netherlands the most willing, due to the “more liberal tradition of that country.”

  3. Euthanasia: a subject that has intrigued me for long. I would leave it to personal choice in this case. If someone doesn’t want to live in vegetative state or an exceptionally painful state we should not prolong their agony on religious grounds. But things are sometimes grey. We don’t want people like Dr. Death to prey on such patients who may want to survive.

    • Yes, shades of grey are infinite, and the ethical implications of such theme are complex. But, as you said, a deep respect for patient autonomy should be present, otherwise there’s no individual freedom any more.

  4. yeah, the debate on euthanasia is eternal and not only in your country! And the religious hold on politics (for whatever reason!!) is also not uncommon, at least in India i know how bad religious interventions can get!! :(

    Being a Medico i would say euthanasia is of course a personal matter and to make a person suffer just to keep him/her “alive” when the stage is terminal is of no sense. But there are a lot of ethical problems to this and probably that’s the reason why in most of the countries haven’t made it legal.

    • A Medico, so you’re certainly knowledgeable on this difficult stuff.
      It is a personal matter, this is my view also. Italy is like India as far as religious constraints (see my reply to Commentator above.) Being the centre of the Catholic Church has its effects on laws, which is not acceptable in my view. We’re not a theocracy, we are a free state.

      Euthanasia is not legal here. Patients can refuse treatment, but no living will is allowed. But then Eluana’s case arrived. Her father had said his daughter had expressed her will to refuse treatment. The Highest Court had ruled in his favour. “The Court has overstepped its limits” conservatives angrily said. A living-will bill was hence necessary. Berlusconi, promising such bill, has actually sacked the living will yesterday. Cunning. This is the way we settle things here.

      Thanks for your comment Sakhi!

  5. Euthanasia is not legal in most of the countries. I agree that it is a private stuff. However, when someone wanted to take away/cease someone’s life because of not to prolong their agony, there is a contradiction in between the local law and the religious (morality). It always raises a debate about this issue but it still doesn’t have any conclusion.

    I agree poonam said in the above. We should not prolong someone’s agony. There was a case happened in few years ago. One guy was totally paralysed in an accident. He sent a letter to the Chief Executive of HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] for Euthanasia. It raised the public awareness. The letter was shown to the public and many people sent greetings and approached him, now he is still alive and being positive…the ending seemed good in this case but the issue of Euthanasia hasn’t fixed.

    I do not think it’s easy to conclude who is right or wrong, if someone wanted to stop their life, I think there are some doctors would help them secretly at somewhere lol.

    • There is indeed a larger ethical component to consider. It’s not as simple as “we’ll make a law. It’s only logical to make it a private matter.”

      We’re talking about life here.

      What happens if, and this is hypothetical, a person dies with the help of doctors but a cure for the condition is found the next day?

      How to define a persons “pain?” What would be fair to assist suicide and not?

    • @AutumnSnow
      @The Commentator

      If I have well understood, AutumnSnow, the guy paralysed in Hong Kong is now better so it’s good he didn’t die. This also corresponds to what the Commentator said: “What if a cure is found the next day?”

      According to the bill approved yesterday, now here the end-of-life decision is up to the doctor only. I need a better knowledge of the bill.

      But it seems to me – I can be simplistic – that it’s not up to some doctor, bureaucrat, priest etc. to decide about my life. They should advice me with their skills, knowledge etc., but the ultimate decision should be mine 1) if I am conscious enough or 2) if I have previously made my will known or 3) such final decision should belong to the people who love me (this is tougher, our law for example considers it a crime in some cases.)

      And if a cure is found the next day, it’ll prove my decision was wrong and I will bear the responsibility for it, being my life after all, and nobody else’s.

      Should, on the other hand, a person adhere to some belief etc. that considers his/her life not his/her own matter only, but God’s, the Pope’s, society’s etc., he/she must of course be free to act accordingly.

      I mean, if we love liberty, why not extending it to our life? Ok, our ethics considers “life” in a special way… but should we impose our ethics to all? Ok, we’re not relativist! But then, aren’t we getting back to those ‘absolute truths’ which don’t accept different opinions?

      A society really based on liberty must accept some doses of relativism, in my view.

      AutumnSnow: I know there are places where one can go secretly etc., but that is not a nice solution.

      • Berlusconi’s law invalidating living wills is pure fascism. Not only does he look somewhat like Mussolini, I guess he is a reincarnation of Benito, or should I say an avatar of the late dictator?

        • Berlusconi is authoritarian. He dislikes any limit to his actions or any balance of powers like an independent judiciary (for obvious reasons,) and a parliament that is too “slow” for him and which he continuously tries to bypass via decrees.

          Yes, should transmigration of souls be in place, his body was surely a good candidate for hosting Benito.

  6. I believe that God gave man the ability to become Doctors, giving them the knowledge and the technology to save people. However, I don’t believe that keeping someone “alive” via artificial means is considered “Life”. If the government is using religion to back their cause, they need to also listen to what God is saying (the basis for religion, right..?)- and that is that not everyone is supposed to be “saved”. Because of our Free Will, we have the ability to prolong a life, via artificial means, that was meant to cease. At what point though does that stop? Do you allow an average life span and then pull the plug at 75… or go to 125 because “there might be a cure the next day”? I’m not that great at articulating my thoughts into words- forgive me. I hope you understand what I am trying to convey.

    I found you via Kalofagos.com. I am an Italian gal living in Phoenix, AZ, USA, and enjoyed what you have written, and will return! Thank you for allowing me to comment. ;-) Janet

    • Thank you Janet for the Kalofagas referrence. They do have scrumptious Greek food recipes. Man of Roma is really a communication hub:Italy, U.S, India, Canada, he scans the world.

    • Janet, Paul, I’ll reply to both of you tonite. Today is Saturday. Drinking something and listening to your Boston band’s “More that a feeling”, Janet. I love it! It is the rock style of my generation too. Welcome by the way!
      Paul, let’s not forget China, dear Autumnsnow is from there. Well, all roads are bound to Rome somehow ;)

      • I did not know that Automnsnow was from China. My remark is all the more appropriate.

        • I try to extend the dialogue but it isn’t always easy. She is a biologist from Hong Kong.

  7. @Paul

    I have replied to you above.

    @Janet

    Welcome here Janet! Yes, some lives are meant to cease for reasons beyond our will. ‘After how many years should we pull the plug’ seems to me a good point. There are tons of implications, as many said here, but it seems absurd to me that a vegetative Eluana was kept alive for 17 years!

    Thank you for stopping by dear Italian gal from USA! I recently met some very nice people from Phoenix, AZ, here in Rome. I very much enjoyed your blog too (yummy) and will return there as well.

    And viva i Boston! They are/were very professional and inspired. I was a guitar player and singer but then classical music has corrupted me.

    • There is a wonderful classical luth and guitar repertoir out there so you could have gone on playing guitar. I love classical music…but also listen to lighter music including jazz and pop. I have a hard time though with heavy metal and techno which is probably why my son loves them so much.
      Music of whatever type does not corrupt, it enlightens and captivates.

      • In fact my mistake was to think I could become a good pianist starting at 18, while I was a good guitarist and I should have stuck there. Now I’m none that satisfies me. But I discovered complex music and humanities. So it’s allright (although I miss so much that Dionysian enivrement of performing with a band in front of an audience …. Gosh!)

        I know music doesn’t corrupt. It was a jest around the ‘corruption of innocence’ thing, which contains some truth though, since, when you go deep into something, some naiveté, some innocence, is gone forever.

      • @Paul

        PS
        About your son. ah ah. It is typical. Something similar happens here with my daughters.

        • My daughters are fond of Country music. My son is on you tube performing with some of his archaelogy students at McGill University and a collaegue Philosophy professor. Takes some guts to listen…but it’s an experience. If you dare, look for “André Costopoulos” on Youtube.

    • Boston always brings a smile to my face- so glad to hear you enjoyed that!

      Yes, my grandparents came to New York, through Ellis Island, from Minturno, Italy. I was born and raised in New York, then came to Arizona when I was in High School. I so miss the east coast, and have yet to visit Italy. Someday!

      Glad you liked my blog, and happy to see you’ll return. Have a great week!

      • So you are a real American of Italian origin. I am fascinated – I said here many times – by the Italian culture transplanted into the New World. In my search of the roots I’ve learned many things from you guys from beyond the ocean. Minturno is very close to Rome by the way. Have a great week you too!

  8. PS: on You tube he is andreCosto and calls his group “the Megalith”, it figures.

    • I’ve watched some of the music movies by your son. I couldn’t distinguish who he is, the keyword ‘Andrecosto’ bringing always back to the entire band. It’s interesting music, and not so ‘hard’ after all, despite the quality of recording which doesn’t allow much to get into the details.

      • He is the one playing, alternately, transverse flute and guitar. The philosophy professor is playing tablas. André is a group guy not a soloist hence the going back to the Megalith, an amateur group strictly for McGill Anthropology parties.

        • Now I have identified him. He looks very young, and it’s good to be a group guy and not a primadonna.

          • He turned 40 on January 21st, is married, two children. Same wife for the last 20 years.

          • He looks younger.

  9. I’ve been having some trouble with my subscriptions, feeds and such, hence the long absence from MoR. Chiedo venia.
    I want to thank you for the Eluana post. I am apalled at our Italian government for bullying into the Englaro’s private tragedy, exploiting it for a purely personal agenda. The lust for power tramples over this shattered family’s pain, and denies in its schemes a very Christian concept: free will.

    And after months of heated debate, hours of TV shows dedicated to the matter, media vultures feasting on one man’s struggle to save a dying woman’s dignity, I ask you: is Italy’s problem truly assisted death and the controversy therein, or is this not all one big and convenient “distraction” from the real ailments that plague this country? Is this not a timely puff of “fumo negli occhi?”
    Again, thank you for opening this delicate can of worms. Ciao

    • Don’t worry Lola. I know blogging is time-consuming. First of all let me tell you that the ‘This blog has a heart’ award you passed me has moved me and I thank you for that so much!

      Yes, it is a can of worms. Difficult to understand what’s really happening. Even professional analysts have different opinions. Berlusconi’s action regarding the Eluana case is probably a sort of ‘distraction’, but, and this is scary, it could at the same time be a planned step in the direction of a greater power. That man is bulimic, he’s never satisfied. He wants to modify the constitution to entrench more and more into power and history tells us that those who reached and ‘kept’ power in this country (even Mussolini, an anticlerical originally) had always to come to terms with the Catholic Church, which is a centre of sincere faith I respect but which also exerts enormous political influence. The new party Berlusconi has just created seems in fact similar to the old ‘Democrazia cristiana’ (which could keep her power also because of the Church), and the bill he passed exploiting the Eluana’s tragedy makes Italy a little bit similar to some Islamic states, I’m sorry to say that. Ciao

  10. Perhaps you are aware of the similar case here in the USA [Terri Schiavo] in which Republican politicians behaved in much the same way.

    …[after appeals were exhausted] the Florida Legislature hastily passed “Terri’s Law,” giving Governor Jeb Bush the authority to intervene in the case.

    • But she died before any law was passed, if I remember well. However it is the same situation, yes.

    • @Lichanos

      I had some memory of it, but totally forgot the details. It’s amazing how the two cases are similar. Thanks for reminding me.


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