An Infuriating Case From Italy

9 February, 2009

One frequent apologetic which shows up in conversation is the blatant canard that religion does no harm.  I’ll pause here for a moment so we can consider Jerusalem, Carcassone, Magdeburg, and Salonika (among thousands of cities and towns).  For those who prefer outrages on a personal level, remember Terry Schiavo?  And today’s politicians much prefer tragedies one at a time.  They can toss a bone to the radical religious right voters.

Over in Italy, Eluana Englaro, a young woman who has been in a coma for 17 years following a car accident, has now become the focus of a constitutional crisis created by the Prime Minister and the Vatican.  Following a decade-long court battle, her father, in accordance with her wishes, has asked the doctors to remove the feeding tube.

The conservative Prime Minister and media magnate (he controls about half of Italy’s broadcasting), Silvio Berlusconi, after consultation with the Vatican, has signed a decree ordering that doctors keep her body breathing.  “On issuing the emergency decree, Berlusconi declared: “This is murder. I would be failing to rescue her. I’m not a Pontius Pilate.”  The decree does not single out this case, however;  it states that “food and water cannot be suspended for any patient depending upon them.”

The President, Giorgio Napolitano has refused to add his signature to the decree.  However, if Parliament ratifies it, it will become law.  Overruling the court and the wishes of the family. 

But wait.  It gets worse.  Much worse. 

In issuing the decree, Berlisconi added further ‘justification’ to his absurdity by stating that she was in the condition to have babies.”  In the condition to have babies?  You have got to be fucking kidding me!

Seventeen years in a coma.  The court agreed that there was virtually no chance she would come out of the coma.  The doctors said the same.  Now a right-wing fruitcake asshole politician decides she should remain alive because her reproductive organs are still extant and functioning.

There are so many things wrong with this that I have trouble figuring out where to begin.  But I’ll try (you knew I would, right?).

  1. Would her body be able to take the physical strain after 17 years in a comatose state?  (I seriously doubt it, though I am not a doctor)
  2. Can a comatose woman give her consent to sexual activity?  Since she cannot, would not that be considered rape?  (A mentally incapacitated person cannot make a legal decision therefore any sexual activity committed on her person would be rape (in my non-lawyer opinion))
  3. Is Berlisconi stating that a woman’s only reason for existence is her vagina and womb?  (Fits right in with the current level of radically conservative religious thought in the world today)
  4. If a seven-year-old girl is severely injured in an accident, would Berlisconi let her die because she is not “in a condition to have babies”? Once Eluana reaches menopause, will it suddenly become acceptable to remove the feeding tubes? (With the reasoning used by Bersiconi, a woman’s ability to have babies is the deciding factor)
  5. Why is the Prime Minister of a secular democracy, a part of the European Union, consulting with the Vatican regarding the care of an Italian citizen?  (I’m guessing it is to court enough religious votes to continue his fifteen-year hold on the Prime Minister-ship of Italy)

(If anyone has different answers for these, go for it.  I would love some different opinions.)

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t ‘getting government off peoples back’ a sacred tenet of the modern conservative movement?  Why then are conservatives so quick to interfere in family decisions — abortion, birth control, the right to die with dignity, and  homosexuality?  Why this interference with private life?  Or is conservatism only obsessed with getting the government out of the wayoff of the backs of private industry so that private industry and the wealthy can rape the world and only use sex and death as political weapons to get votes?

Thought experiment:  Suppose a large, wealthy industrial combination was releasing a low grade poison into the drinking water of a small town.  Suppose that this poison caused an extremely high percentage of pregnancies to end in miscarriage.  Suppose a religious conservative politician learned of this problem.  Would said politician (a) immediately move heaven and earth to end the pollution, compensate the victims and find the best medical care possible or (b) whine about how sad the situation is but claim that any action against the industry would cost jobs and hurt the town even more and let the situation continue; or (vice PhillyChief) (c) Express sorrow over the miscarriages but deny any connection to the company by denying the release of the poison. If the act was proven, then deny the degree of it (the quantity and/or length of time doing it). Finally, point out the role of the industry in the area, perhaps with a suggestion that if not for the industry, no one would be able to feed, clothe or house any babies anyway.

The radical religious right is only concerned with sexuality and death on an individual basis.  Infringing upon the rights of private citizens in such cases is not just acceptable to a religious politician, it is necessary.  If sex and death involves the powerful people and industries, it suddenly becomes hands off.  Interfering in the lives of sovereign citizens allows a radical religious politician the chance to make a statement of ‘faith’ to his or her constituency without endangering the ones from whom the money flows.

Fucking hypocrites.


Update (09FEB09, 1730):  Eluana Englaro has passed away with dignity.  Of course, the asshats on the right are using her death to make political hay.  Or political hate.



  1. Your hypothetical situation isn’t actually that hypothetical. Labor history is rife with examples of the church backing up industry interests when workers protested unsafe working conditions or tried to unionize. I have a hunch it wouldn’t take much digging to find examples of local ministers supporting, for example, Union Carbide in West Virginia when stories about industrial pollution and toxic working conditions started coming out.

  2. Nan: I know. The Catholic Churches in railroad towns railed against the unions from the 1870s through the 1930s. In the 40s, they discovered that union workers get paid more and thus can tithe more. I thought I had made it clear from my choices the reality of the situation. I need to work on my writing skills. Sorry.

  3. (c) Express sorrow over the miscarriages but deny any connection to the company by denying the release of the poison. If the act was proven, then deny the degree of it (the quantity and/or length of time doing it). Finally, point out the role of the industry in the area, perhaps with a suggestion that if not for the industry, no one would be able to feed, clothe or house any babies anyway.

    I think your #4 is a good point, and is comparable to anti-gay points for denying gays marriage rights (“marriage is about procreation, and gays can’t procreate”).

  4. I’m no doctor either, but I think under point number 1 her body probably would be able to withstand it, but that is ultimately irrelevant because of point number 2 – inability to give consent. Different issue if she were already pregnant when she went into the coma, in which case you have the question of foetal injury and reasonable prospect of surviving which would justify refusing to disconnect life support, but only for a maximum of nine months.

    As for point 5, ignoring the religious aspect of it, let’s consider the rather more interesting constitutional problem of the head of state of State A deferring to the opinions of head of state of State B on issues of the care of citizens of State A. Now, I would say that abdicating responsibility for your own citizens and leaving it to the direction of another country’s leader is treason….

  5. Philly: I added your (c). Once again, you pick up the obvious ‘miss’ and point it out. Thank you. I appreciate it. Point #4 comes down to the idea that women are not human beings, they are axlotl tanks for the men.

    Paul: Good point on #5. I forgot that the Vatican is, diplomatically, a sovereign nation. Damn. You and Philly are good.

  6. I don’t even know where to begin. The audacity of the religious zealots to dictate to others how they should live their lives based on the religious person’s world-view is just beyond comprehension.

    Point 3 is very probable – and would be totally in line with the weird Catholic views on procreation.

    On point 5 – I ask the same about the Republicans of the Utah Legislature last week consulting with the Mormon Church on matters of legislation, specifically re: employment and housing protection for GLBTs, wrongful death suits for non-married heterosexual and gay couples, and a few other bills that the crazy liberals in the legislature had the audacity to introduce. I’m not sure if Italy has anything close to a church/state separation clause, but the US sure does, and it doesn’t stop Utah from being effectively a Mormon theocracy.

  7. I heard the doctors have removed the life support and she has died http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article5697099.ece the article is ‘interesting’

  8. from the article, this quote from the Pope

    “the sanctity of life must be safeguarded from conception to its natural end”.

    Can I just say, 17 years on life support is hardly natural

  9. And if life is so sacred, why teach against (and disseminate lies about) using condoms that can prevent the transmission of HIV and other STD’s?

  10. Craig: The Utah legislature consults with the LDS on prospective legislation? Wow.

    Oz: Thanks for the update. I read the article and some of the statements coming out of the ‘center right’ (which appears to be code for radical right wing asshats) are sickening. They are phrases meant to justify ones actions after the fact, not seek any real resolution.

    Craig: Because only married people should have sex and those who have sex out of wedlock must be punished and HIV and other STDs are God’s punishment. At least, that’s the religious viewpoint.

  11. Yeah, it’s creepy and unconstitutional as all get out: http://www.sltrib.com/faith/ci_11558763 and then the church’s whiney rebuttal: http://www.sltrib.com/Opinion/ci_11593505

  12. Thanks, Craig. I think I see tomorrow’s post.

  13. Asking “the church’s” opinion on legal matters goes on A LOT here in Utah. The legislature doesn’t even try to hid it, they openly meet with LDS church leaders to help them make decisions on laws.

  14. If there’s one thing the religious people have taught the world, it is that life is not sacred and that they value it far less than the non-religious. What can possibly be sacred about something that you are guaranteed to have forever, no matter what you do? Such life is cheap and without value. Killing thus has no consequence, and keeping Terri Schiavo or Eluana Englaro alive is merely an exercise in sadism. Berlusconi is insane and Pope Jonny Ratz is beyond pathetic as he delivers his nutcase pronouncements from his insulated-from-reality closet.

    Makes me want to go out and fuck a Christian for the greater glory of… of… oh, hell, just because I want to get laid.

  15. Poodles: That’s . . . That’s . . . Words fail me. Do they meet with Unitarians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, atheists? What the hell happened to equal protection?

    Ric: That’s an interesting perspective which needs to be more fully explored. And I (almost) agree that keeping them alive is merely and exercise in sadism; it is also an exercise in power politics.

  16. Nope, they don’t consult with any other religious or social organisation – just the Mormon hierarchy (which are the legislators ecclesiastical leaders whom they revere nigh unto worship). Any time the church says anything about moral or social issues, suddenly it magically become law in Utah. Until Mormons (and especially Mormon republicans) aren’t the majority here, I doubt anything will change.

  17. Craig: Sounds suspiciously like the theocratic democracy in Iran. Except that one of the religions may be crazier than the other.

  18. Mmhmm…

  19. At least in Utah they admit that gays exist, they just have all sorts of laws and constitutional amendments to take away our rights.

  20. So which is crazier, LSD or Islam?

  21. I’m not sure. I think that pretty much any authoritarian religion, if given free reign turns despotic and controlling, usually very sexist, homophobic and megalomanic, and often murderously violent. If the Mormons could make all their own laws and could really control everything – instead of just half of everything, who knows what they’d do now. 150-100 years ago when Mormons had total control over Utah, women were treated like property, and given to the powerful and loyal church leaders as rewards, or taken away from those who needed punishing – they were effectively currency.

    I think that most all religions are equally crazy, but there may be some which are worse in others in their human rights violations. Right now Fundamentalist Muslim regimes (Iran) violate human rights more than anywhere in the US, though there are distinct parallels – the control of information, what kind of ideas are “approved”, how dissent and criticism are handled (in Mormonism, it often leads to excommunication). All I can say is that neither seem to be very nice religions. There are many particulars in both religions that are absolutely disgustingly heinous, though it seems that certain varieties of Islam are probably worse than anything else in the world right now. But of course, 700 years ago, it was the Christians who were the scum of the earth…

  22. Craig:
    Thanks for your knowledgeable insights on Mormonism. As for your remark that neither Mormonism nor Islam seem to be “very nice religions,” all I can say is that, as far as I can tell, there are pitifully few religions that are nice at all.

  23. “…as far as I can tell, there are pitifully few religions that are nice at all.”

    Of that, we are in complete accordance.

  24. What is is about you atheists that you always wnto kill people? Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Marx, Polpot, abortionists, contraceptionists, and now you want to murder a woman just because she can have children? This is whats wrong wiht atheistism you ahve no respect for actual life her life is important to her even if it is not important to her family. Luckily those of faith are willing to step im to try to stop the murder of helpless unborn babies and women. I am surprised that the Catholic cult got involved but I guess even satanists and pagans can do somehting write ocasionaly. I know that through the love of God and his only begotten Son that those who murdered her will burn forever in hell unless they freely admit there sin and accept the forgiveness of the loving and living God of infinate mercy who protects the week and fragile like women and unborn babies. Accept God please.

  25. her life is important to her

    Nothing is important to her, because she’s a vegetable.

    I’m leaning to “……” being satirical.

  26. I’m starting to think you are correct on that. Persistent bugger, though. God protects the weak and fragile? I thought God was with the bigger battalions.

  27. God “protects” the weak and fragile by giving power to the rich and, well, powerful. That way they have the authority and influence to keep the poor in line and “safe.” It’s trickle-down dictatorship

  28. @ the anonymous coward with the religious freak on at 11 February 2009, 12:12pm

    Wow, you ask us to accept God so nicely after hoping that we suffer horribly. Why is it you religious people have no respect for actual eternal life? Why do you religious people always revel in the prospect of people suffering and claim it is mercy and love.

    It is attitudes like yours that make me ashamed to be a Christian.

    Jesus loves you, but he despairs at your poor spelling, insipid and fallacial arguments, and pitiful grasp of theology. The rest of us just think you are a troll and an idiot.

  29. Paul: The whole ‘love god or be punished’ thing is the dotman’s one consitent thread. Unfortunately, Ive run across that one on church signs and in personal conversations (though the grammar and spelling is (usually) better). This is a common theme among religious zealots. And they frighten me.

  30. Mark 16: 16 He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.


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