Italy’s Terri Schiavo?

Italy’s Terri Schiavo?

Italy’s Terri Schiavo?

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 10 2009 10:28 AM

Italy’s Terri Schiavo?

Italy's Terri Schiavo is dead.

Actually, she's not Italy's Terri Schiavo. And that's the lesson of her politicized death.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Like Schiavo, Eluana Englaro had been in a persistent vegetative state for many years . Like Schiavo, she had a custodian in her family who wanted to remove her feeding tube on the grounds that she wouldn't have wanted it. And the Vatican got into it and Italian politicians got into it , with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi alternating roles as George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. In Englaro's final hours, the country's conservative administration was trying to overrule the courts, and the Senate was in emergency session to consider legislation to force reinsertion of her feeding tube. Sound familiar?


In many ways, it's like the Schiavo case. And in some ways, it resembles the death of DeLay's own father . But in important ways, the three cases are different. That's why DeLay treated his father's situation very differently from Schiavo's. And it's why we can't judge the Englaro case just from what we know about the Schiavo case. And it's why people like Bush and DeLay and Berlusconi should keep their moralizing mitts off cases like these. You can't do justice to such complex family tragedies with a moral cookie cutter.

When Schiavo's husband wanted to pull her feeding tube, pro-lifers said her parents were better guardians and judges of her will. But when Englaro's father wanted to pull her tube, he was denounced as an unfit custodian. If you're banning the removal of feeding tubes, you can't really take account of anything else: what the husband wants, what the parents want, or what the patient herself has said. These are just details that vary from one case to another. If they get in the way, ignore them. Schiavo's life, Englaro's life, your life, my life—these things don't matter. All that matters is "life."

One more thing about the Englaro case: According to the New York Times , "Over the weekend, some Italians began using YouTube to post their own living wills."

I checked YouTube for living wills in English this morning and didn't see anything in the first couple of pages. But I wouldn't be surprised if they start showing up. And when they do, I wonder how the truly hard-core pro-lifers—those who don't believe in living wills (which, by the way, presently include the Italian legal system)—will explain them away. If you don't want to be dragged through your country's courts and legislature like Schiavo or Englaro, this might be a good time to post 30 seconds of video saying so.