updated 11/13/2008 2:27:51 PM ET 2008-11-13T19:27:51

Italy’s highest court ruled Thursday in favor of a man’s request to disconnect his daughter’s feeding tube and allow her to die after 16 years in a vegetative state.

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Courts, politicians and the Vatican have weighed in on the fate of Eluana Englaro, who fell into a vegetative state following a car accident in 1992, when she was 20.

The Court of Cassation said it had rejected an appeal by prosecutors against a lower court ruling in July in favor of Beppino Englaro. The father had said his daughter visited a friend in a coma shortly before her accident and expressed the will to refuse treatment in the same situation.

Italy does not allow euthanasia using methods such as fatal doses of drugs. Patients have a right to refuse treatment, but no law allows them to have a living will in case they become unconscious.

Beppino Englaro had fought a decade-long court battle to disconnect his daughter’s feeding tube.

The decision “confirms that we live under the rule of law,” he was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Angry reaction
Catholic and anti-euthanasia groups had protested the ruling by the lower court in Milan in front of the city’s Duomo.

Conservative politicians reacted angrily to Thursday’s ruling, saying that the courts had overstepped their bounds. Enrico La Loggia, a lawmaker in Permier Silvio Berlusconi’s party, likened the decision to a “death sentence.”

The Vatican’s top health official, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, was quoted by the Apcom agency as saying that disconnecting a feeding tube amounts to “killing a person.”

Eluana Englaro has been kept in a hospital and fed artificially in the northern city of Lecco. Doctors have called her condition irreversible.

Her case has evoked comparisons to that of Terry Schiavo, the American woman at the center of a right-to-die debate until her death in 2005. Schiavo was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state after her heart stopped in 1990.

Schiavo’s husband, who wanted her feeding tube removed against her parents’ wishes, prevailed in a polarizing battle in the United States that reached Congress, President Bush and the Supreme Court.

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