The Italian government adopted an emergency decree Friday that could prevent doctors from removing the feeding tube of a comatose woman who has been at the center of a national debate on the right to die.

“I will do everything I can to save her life,” Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a news conference after the Council of Ministers adopted the decree. “Eluana is alive, and she could have children.”

The decree orders doctors to continue feeding and hydrating Eluana Englaro until a suitable law is approved by parliament, possibly within a few weeks. The decree lacks the approval of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who says he won’t sign it.

Englaro has been in a vegetative state for 17 years, after a car crash in 1992, when she was 20 years old, caused irreversible brain damage. She was transferred Tuesday to a private clinic where she is expected to die — ending what has been a lengthy and controversial legal fight.First of all, it is not the time for a  government official to be interfering with this case. The courts have ruled and now this poor woman is going to be used as a pawn again.

But what really grabbed my attention when I read this news item on CNN is Berlusconi’s statement that the reason he will do all to save her life is because she could have children.

Is he nuts? There is no way a woman who has been in a vegetative state for 17 years is going to have children. Does he really propose that she be artificially inseminated and forced to give birth? Or did he think she might be able to conceive the way most women conceive?

I know Italy is strong on pro-life, but to use this as a reason to prolong the non-life of a woman is ludicrous.  She is being kept alive artificially, and in my medical ethics classes I learned that even the Catholic Church does not demand that a person be kept alive artificially.

It’s a touch decision to have a loved one taken off a feeding tube and/or a ventilator, but it is a great act of courage to be able to end the indignity of keeping a body alive when the person that used to live there is already gone. Englaro’s family has already been through all the painful soul-searching and deliberating and they are ready to let go of her body.

Italian officials need to step aside.

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