Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Death and the state

Last December I posted on the case of Eluana Englaro, an Italian woman who had been in a state of vegetative coma for the past seventeen years, following a car accident when she was twenty. After years of legal to-ing and fro-ing, buck-passing and prevarication, her father, Beppino, finally obtained permission last July to discontinue treatment and allow his daughter to die, in accordance with her own verbally expressed wishes. 

When I wrote my post, the Minister of Welfare, Maurizio Sacconi, a man who had previously shown no marked religious inclinations, was threatening to close the clinic in which the treatment - a pharmaceutical substance providing nutrition and preventing dehydration - was to be withdrawn, despite the fact that Italy's supreme court, the Cassazione, had authorised its discontinuance. According to Sacconi, the state could neither condone nor authorise murder. In any case, said Sacconi, as the self-elected mouthpiece for the Vatican, Eluana's life belonged not to her, but to God.

Since then, and despite a public consensus that, perhaps surprisingly, ignored the anathema of Italy's increasingly vociferous pulpits and sustained Beppino Englaro's struggle, the situation has developed into one that threatens not only the right of one woman to die but the entire democratic structure of Italy, such as it is. Over the last few day, flying in the face of Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, and the warnings of constitutionalists, Berlusconi and his government have been involved in an attempt to improvise a one-paragraph law to 'save Eluana'. The attempt was interrupted by her death, yesterday evening, two days after treatment had been stopped, as a result of cardiac arrest.

It may be the case that some of the people who fought and shouted and legiferated for Eluana's body to be medicated and watered, washed and treated and turned two, three times a day, for her hair and nails to be clipped and her bodily wastes removed - it may be that some of them genuinely believed she was alive in some meaningful way, and that the right to die should be denied not only to the sentient, as is still the case in Italy, but also to the mindless larva Eluana had become. And there's a sort of sentimental absolutism about that position that might even be worth respecting if it weren't applied so readily, and so cruelly, to those who don't share such a belief and abandoned with such alacrity when the body in question is that of a pope or potential saint. 

It may even be the case that some of the religious figures who are now praying that their ever merciful God forgive Beppino Englaro - defined, with infinite understanding, as 'both judge and executioner' by the Vatican house organ today  - it may be that some of these cardinals and bishops actually believe in the sanctity of life so certainly, so irrefutably, that even the mechanical ticking-over of a body incapable of thought and emotional response is considered to be a life worth living, whatever the views of the body's owner, now irretrievable, and of those closest to them, their family and friends and loved ones.

But it certainly isn't the case that Berlusconi - who announced that Eluana was 'still able to have children' as though fertility and the ability to be impregnated were the final measure of a woman's value -  cared one jot about Eluana's right to live. And it certainly isn't the case that politicians like Gasparri and Mantovano, who, until a handful of years ago, belonged to a party that claimed direct descent from a regime that denied not the right to die but the right to live to hundreds of thousands of Jewish fellow citizens, and homosexuals, and communists, and gypsies, have the interests of Eluana Englaro in mind when they scream 'Murderer' at her father. 

Because it isn't the dignity of life that's being defended here, but the vulgar and unseemly - for want of a stronger word - interests of a caste. And when that caste, in its efforts to subvert the constitution and with the assistance of a power-obsessed clerical hierarchy, is prepared to take advantage of the lingering death of a woman and the suffering and civil conscience of her family, it isn't difficult to recognise who's standing on the moral high ground.

3 comments:

Wendell Ricketts said...

God bless you, Charles (and I say it without irony). I've been literally silenced by what has happened in Italy over the last week and, though I felt I wanted to write something about Eluana, I got sick to my stomach every time I tried. Not since the Reagan years in the U.S. have I experienced such a sense that evil was triumphing, and I couldn't watch the news without being horrified at the treatment Eluana's father was getting -- not a single word of comfort, not from his government, not from his church. Vergogna doesn't even begin to cover it. Good for you for finding the right words.

Tyla said...

Peace to Eluana and her family.

Charles Lambert said...

Thanks, Wendell. I know just how you feel. I have a drafted half-post on the new 'security' laws being passed here at the moment - wrong-minded, discriminatory and self-defeating - and I just haven't the heart to finish the damn thing.

Absolutely, Tyla.