[JURIST] Italian President Giorgio Napolitano [BBC profile] Friday refused to sign an Italian government decree intended to stop the father of Eluana Englaro [materials, in Italian], who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years, from removing her feeding tube. Napolitano said the measure was unconstitutional because it would effectively overrule last year's decision [JURIST report] by the country's Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] to allow removal of the tube, thus violating the separation of power between the executive and judicial branches. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] had urged approval of the legislative decree and has convened Italy's Cabinet to draft new legislation to be presented to the Italian Parliament [official website, in Italian] on Monday. While a decree from the legislature requires the president's signature, an actual bill can become law if it is approved by both houses of Parliament. Euthanasia [JURIST news archive] is currently illegal in Italy [JURIST report], and there is no law that allows an unconscious patient to give future directions on his or her treatment.
Eluana Englaro has been in a coma since an automobile accident in 1992. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been fighting to have her feeding tube removed since 1999. In 2005, Italy's Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] upheld [JURIST report] a lower court's ruling to keep her feeding tube in place because they could not find specific evidence on Englaro's personal views of life and death. In October of last year, the Constitutional Court rejected [decision text, in Italian; JURIST report] a parliamentary challenge to a Milan appeals court decision which held doctors could remove Enlargo's feeding tube because she was found to be in an 'irreversible' vegetative state. In November the Court of Cassation affirmed that decision, ruling that Enlargo's father could remove her feeding tube. Catholic groups and conservative politicians opposed the decision arguing [Independent report] that the court is permitting euthanasia.