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Illinois Federation

For Right to Life

Daily News

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Neurologist Calls Withholding Hydration from Patients in "Vegetative State" "Euthanasia by Omission"


Withholding artificial nutrition and hydration from a patient in a persistent vegetative state amounts to "euthanasia by omission," said the former president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Dr. Gian Luigi Gigli.


Dr. Gigli, a professor of neurology at the University of Udine, Italy, spoke to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, yesterday about the case of an Italian woman who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years.


The woman, now 37, was injured in a car accident in 1992. She needed a respirator for three months, but since then has been breathing on her own. She opens and closes her eyes but otherwise shows no signs of awareness.


Milan's civil Court of Appeals ruled July 9 that nutrition and hydration could be withheld because of the "extraordinary duration" of her vegetative state; however on Tuesday the Milan procurator general announced he was taking the court's ruling to the Supreme Court, which could block removal of the feeding tubes for up to one year.


At the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas, held in Rome in 2004, Dr. Gigli stated that the removal of nutrition and hydration from people in a vegetative state who are not otherwise dying is done only to end their lives and is in fact euthanasia. He stated that the removal of nutrition and hydration to intentionally end a life is the Trojan horse to active euthanasia.


Dr. Gigli said, "After society rejected euthanasia under Nazism, we are now accepting euthanasia for freedom or compassion or pain or choice. I will fight this as long as I live and with all of my strength."


He continued, "If we open the door to nutrition and hydration removal, something else will come. It will make life a disposable good and life will be only a good based on its quality. If we accept this we will accept that there is a life not worthy of life. It will lead to the notion - 'wouldn't it be better, faster and more compassionate to give them an injection'."


In a Zenit interview ( ), Dr. Gigli warned that the vegetative state is a "pejorative term" which implies lack of humanity.


"The patient, alternating sleep with wakefulness, does not give answers that seem to make sense. It is not a terminal illness and does not require machines to guarantee vital functions."


"Hydration and nutrition must be considered as ordinary and proportionate means for the objective that they intend, i.e. to nourish the patient. As such, they are morally obligatory, even if they are administered through a tube."


"The fact that there is a high probability that the patient will not recover consciousness cannot justify the interruption of basic care, including hydration and nutrition. Otherwise, there is euthanasia by omission," Dr. Gigli concluded. 


Contact: Thaddeus M. Baklinski


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The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection for the disabled and the elderly.   Click here to learn more about the IFRL.