ROME – Politicians and prosecutors in Italy are bitterly contesting a court ruling that granted a man's request to disconnect the tube feeding his daughter, who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years.
With Parliament and high courts weighing in on the fate of Eluana Englaro, the case is becoming ever more reminiscent of Terry Schiavo, the American woman at the center of a right-to-die debate until her death in 2005.
On Friday, the Senate passed a motion asking Italy's Constitutional Court to rule on whether a Milan appeals tribunal overstepped its authority in granting her father's request.
The motion sailed through both chambers of Parliament, supported by the conservative majority and pro-Vatican centrists in the opposition who claim the ruling impinges on Parliament's legislative powers.
Englaro was 20 years old when she fell into a vegetative state following a car accident in 1992. Two years later, doctors called her condition irreversible. She has been kept in a hospital and fed artificially in the northern city of Lecco.
Her father, Beppino Englaro, sought for more than 10 years to have her feeding tube removed, insisting it was her wish. He said his daughter had visited a friend who was in a similar condition shortly before her accident and had expressed the will to refuse treatment if in the same condition.
Italy does not allow euthanasia, but patients have a right to refuse treatment.
Catholic and anti-euthanasia groups have protested the Milan ruling by leaving bottles of water in front of the city's Duomo.
Prosecutors also have appealed the ruling to the Court Cassation, Italy's top criminal court.
Vittorio Angiolini, a lawyer for the Englaro family, said the appeal doesn't suspend the previous ruling, which remains in effect, though prosecutors are expected to separately ask for a suspension.
He criticized Parliament's motion.
"It's clearly an inadmissible request; it's an attempt to censure a judicial decision," Angiolini told Sky TG24 television. "There was no invasion of Parliament's powers."
The debate in Italy mirrors the divisions in the United States over Schiavo, who was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state after her heart stopped in 1990.
Schiavo's husband wanted her feeding tube removed against her parents' wishes. She died in 2005 amid protests outside her hospice after her husband prevailed in the polarizing dispute that reached Congress, President Bush and the Supreme Court.