Eluana is dead

After 17 years in a coma, Eluana Englaro has finally had her feeding tubes removed and been slowly allowed to starve to death. It only took three days. Then she died of a heart attack.

This is a story that has dominated Italian media over recent weeks, and divided the country over what is right and what is wrong.

Speaking to people and reading the papers, the feeling is that the majority of people are against legalised killing. Which is hardly surprising, since Italy is an inherently Catholic country (Catholic beliefs holding, of course, to all life being sacred).

The whole story is deeply tragic, and interesting for the way that it has thrown the whole right-to-die question out into the open, like no other case has done before.  There is now debate among politicians as to whether to introduce new right-to-die laws.

But the case has also provided a remarkable insight into the way Silvio Berlusconi tends to operate. (And lets forget for the moment the daft utterances, so beloved by journalists, that Berlusconi is forever coming out with. It is reported that he claimed Eluano should not be allowed to die, because she is “in the condition to have babies”).

Everyone knows by now the tendency of Berlusconi to introduce laws into parliament to serve his own purposes – usually in an attempt to prevent him being prosecuted for misdemeanour’s in the past. So it is interesting to see how enthusiastically he stepped into this debate to save Eluana’s life.

One argument goes that Berlusconi took this side of the debate because of the strong sentiment felt by most of Italy that Eluana should be saved. By championing this view, he could have hoped to have earnt more votes in subsequent elections.

Another argument is that Berlusconi’s stance had less to do with Eluana and more to do with what he might want to do in the future. In order to try and save Eluana’s life, Berlusconi had to go head-to-head with Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s President, who theoretically is empowered to approve or reject any parliamentary decree. He decided to reject this one.

The President and Prime Minister rarely clash – Italy would be even more ungovernable than it already is if they were bickering all the time. Therefore, for Napolitano to step in and oppose the decree that Berlusconi wanted to push through (as well he should have done, since the decree flagrantly abused Italy’s legal system, by overturning a ruling of the court) was a pretty big gesture. Big enough, perhaps, that he won’t really want to repeat it in the near future. Which means that Berlusconi might be more successful in pushing through decrees on the future.

Next on the list? A law to regulate blogs. Watch this space.

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