- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

ROME (AP) - The Italian Senate approved a bill Thursday to ban caregivers from suspending food and water to any patient _ a move that comes after a right-to-die case divided the nation.

The woman in that case, Eluana Englaro, died last month after her family cut off her food and water. She had been at the center of a legal battle since entering a vegetative state following a 1992 car accident.

The new bill, if approved by the lower house of parliament, would allow people to decide in advance how they want to be treated if they become incapacitated and to state it in a living will. Currently, Italy has no law allowing a living will.

The legislation also states that while patients have a right to refuse treatment, they cannot refuse nutrition or hydration because those are not treatments but “vital support.”

Critics said this provision infringes a person’s right to self-determination.

The bill is being pushed by Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government, which had backed the Vatican line that Englaro should be kept alive.

The Senate passed the bill 150-123.

Opposition Sen. Umberto Veronesi, who is also an oncologist, said he would campaign for a referendum to abolish it if it became law, as is expected.

The battle over Englaro’s fate pitted her father _ who said it had been Englaro’s wish to have her feeding tube disconnected _ against those who said disconnecting the tube was tantamount to killing her.

The Englaro case has drawn comparisons to that of Terri Schiavo, the American woman who died in 2005 after an fierce right-to-die debate.

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