Tuesday 10 February 2009

Italian Coma Paitent Dies

And so it ended.

This case has made me very uneasy: the speed with which Berlusconi moved to overturn a court decision is quite disturbing. If the executive and legislature are going to intervene in the judicial system, then it should always be measured and considered, not rushed. What does it do for the independence of the judicial system if politicians are so quick to intervene? (Why this focus? Perhaps this is the student lawyer in me...)

Of course, it could be argued that this was an instance where quick action was needed to ensure that life is respected. In such a sensitive case the moral question should be addressed.

I find myself ill at ease with euthanasia for a number of reasons, partly because of the abuse which it could be open to (pressure on the elderly and paitents, etc), but the value of life argument does strike a cord with me here too. It is a very sensitive and complex topic. However, the right to die in this case is very different. Euthanasia is about assisted suicide; it requires the intervention of one human in order to end the life of another. The right to die in this case is about withdrawing the human intervention which has artifically prevented death.

To me this is an important difference.

Ms Englaro was in a vegetative state for 17 years. The court was statisfied that nothing more could be done to heal her, and that it was her wish that she would not be maintained in such a state if she could not be cured. The purpose of the life support was to keep her alive until she could be cured, if she could be cured. Should she have been left in an artifical limbo until she died of old age? Perhaps I have come to the conclusion I have because of where I draw the line of what is a "natural" death. To me, letting nature take its course, free of human intervention, if there is no hope of improvement and the paitent him or herself has expressed the wish that they do not want to be kept on life support, is miles apart from assisted suicide and is a "natural" death.

This may not end with Ms Englaro's death; Berlusconi could, and probably will, push ahead with this legislation. If he does, I hope that there will be enough time for a proper debate about it, rather than it being forced through parliament.

On another matter, I have to say that the treatment of the Roma community, as indicated by Jon Worth on his blog, here and here, is also very disturbing and unsettling.

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