Workers Vanguard No. 940
31 July 2009
Italy: For the Separation of Church and State!
The Englaro Case: A Modern Inquisition
(Women and Revolution pages)
The following article is translated from Spartaco No. 71 (April 2009), newspaper of the Lega Trotskista d’Italia, section of the International Communist League.
After visiting a friend reduced to a vegetative state as the result of a car accident, Eluana Englaro told her father that she would never want to be kept artificially alive in similar circumstances. Eluana was serious, but the monsters who lead Italian capitalism today—in collusion with the Vatican—are not interested in what intelligent young women think.
In 1992, Eluana ended up in an analogous tragedy. She had serious cerebral lesions as a result of a car accident and was reduced to a vegetative state for 17 years. Her father, Beppino Englaro, searched for a way to honor his daughter’s wish. For years, he tried to get her feeding tube removed “to put an end to the horror of a non-life, which Eluana, before the accident, had always considered barbaric” (La Repubblica, 9 February). His efforts were systematically met with a hysterical fundamentalist crusade orchestrated by cardinals, doctors and lawyers and run by “honorable” members of parliament who trampled human dignity and their very own laws.
Even after winning a nine-year-long legal battle, Beppino Englaro was then confronted by regional and national governments that showed contempt for the judges’ ruling and blocked him from disconnecting life-support equipment that was keeping Eluana artificially alive. When Eluana was transferred in early February to the “La Quiete” clinic in Udine, where doctors and nurses voluntarily began to honor Eluana’s wishes, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cruelly tried to ram through an order to stop them. But Eluana’s debilitated body succumbed to death before the order was approved.
In a climate that recalled the medieval Inquisition, Beppino Englaro and the courageous medical team that helped his daughter were in danger of being charged with homicide. They received death threats from self-proclaimed “right to life” supporters. Down with this grotesque persecution! Hands off Englaro and Eluana’s medical team!
The Vatican enthusiastically supported a proposed law whose intent was to prevent the repetition of other “Eluana cases” in the future. The “living will” law, otherwise known as DAT (Declaration in Advance of Treatment), not only bans any type of euthanasia, but also prohibits removal of artificial feeding tubes, casting aside the express wishes of the patient. Down with this reactionary law!
We say that the state has no right to decide who lives and who dies. That’s why we oppose the death penalty on principle. The state should not interfere in any personal or private decisions. We believe that people of sound mind who are afflicted with painful, incurable diseases have the right to decide for themselves if and when they want to die, as well as the right to any necessary medical assistance. Opposition to carrying out this basic form of humanitarianism is rooted in the religious conception that human beings possess a “soul” that only God may take back. The humanitarian solution in Eluana’s case would have been a quick, painless and merciful injection.
The Englaro case recalls the case of Piergiorgio Welby, who was afflicted with muscular dystrophy. He died in 2006 after having been tied to an artificial respirator for nine years. In contrast to Eluana, Welby was fully conscious and launched a campaign to end his life of torment. We oppose the criminalization of suicide, which historically has been considered a crime against God and the state. We defend courageous medical doctors like Jack Kevorkian, who spent eight years in jail in the United States for having helped many patients defend their right to euthanasia and bring their suffering to an end.
It’s the inquisitors, who today reside in parliament and the opulent rooms of the Vatican, who destroy lives or make them miserable in the name of a mythological God, patriarchy and the capitalist state. They are the same ones who oppose and restrict artificial insemination and medical progress through embryonic stem cell research. Berlusconi grotesquely exclaimed that Eluana “could still, hypothetically, give birth to a son.” The Catholic hierarchies and the many politicians who fed like vultures on the body of Eluana Englaro and oppose the right to euthanasia would like to overturn the right to abortion, which is already severely restricted by the so-called “conscientious objector” clause of Law No. 194 [1978 law providing limited abortion rights]. Thanks to this reactionary clause, about 70 percent of gynecologists at public hospitals, pressured by Catholic fundamentalists, refuse to perform abortions (and you can be sure some of them do this to poach patients for their private clinics), creating a situation where women are often compelled not to have an abortion or to resort to expensive, illegal and potentially fatal abortions. To be sure, bourgeois women, who have the means and access to competent doctors, have always been able to terminate a pregnancy in decent conditions. But the situation is particularly serious for working-class and poor women, and even worse still for “illegal” immigrants who are terrorized by the threat of deportation if they go to public hospitals. Free, safe abortion on demand, including for immigrants and minors! Abolish the conscientious objector clause!
With the hypocritical pretext of defending women, on February 5, the very same week in which the government was trying to prolong the agony of the Englaro family, the Senate approved a new security package that included a so-called “anti-rape law” and legalized racist patrols supported by [Umberto Bossi’s racist, far-right] Northern League. Despite the regular media campaigns to incite racist hysteria against “foreign rapists,” the fact is that the majority of violence against women and children takes place inside the suffocating confines of the family. This law has nothing to do with protecting women from rape, a horrible crime that is being cynically exploited as a pretext to unleash more terror against immigrant workers and their families. Down with the security package! Abolish the Turco-Napolitano and Bossi-Fini laws [1998 and 2002 anti-immigrant laws]! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
The security package is doubly racist and deadly. It increases the number of persecutory measures against the terribly oppressed and impoverished Roma [Gypsy] minority, and pushes doctors to finger “illegal” immigrants to the police, a de facto denial of their right to health care (including pregnant women and children). The press has already pointed to several cases where immigrants were turned in or were too afraid to seek medical care. Nurses and doctors unions must mobilize against these laws! For free, quality health care for all!
Parini High School students in Milan celebrated International Women’s Day by protesting the security package and distributing condoms, explaining that the only protection they need is against venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies. Meanwhile Pope Ratzinger toured Africa railing against sex and the use of condoms. On the African continent, the deadly policies of the Catholic church and the hunger for profits of the pharmaceutical companies that refuse to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to the impoverished black masses have condemned millions to death from the AIDS virus.
The creeps that pretend to “defend life” and wanted Beppino Englaro jailed for murder include one Mario Palmaro, leader of the Catholic fundamentalist “Verità e Vita” [“Truth and Life”]. Palmaro is opposed to abortion rights even for rape victims, and he recently published a book dedicated to Lefebvrian “traditionalists.” Last January 24, just before the “day of [Holocaust] remembrance,” Ratzinger revoked the excommunication of four Lefebvrian bishops, including Richard Williamson, who denies the Nazi genocide. Don Abrahamowicz, who has celebrated masses against Islam and organized anti-gay protests with the Northern League, maintains that the death penalty “in and of itself is not reprehensible” and asserted that the gas chambers in Nazi death camps were “at least for disinfection” (La Repubblica, 30 January). That this is not limited to a marginal wing of the Catholic church is demonstrated by the fact that the preceding Pope, Wojtyla, beatified Cardinal Stepinac, mentor to the horrific Croatian fascist regime during the Second World War.
Church and religion serve to reinforce the rule of the capitalist class. They preach submission to misery and suffering in this life in exchange for a mythical paradise after death. At the height of the hysteria around the Eluana case, Ratzinger railed against euthanasia: “Not one tear, neither of those who suffer nor of their loved ones, must be lost before God” (Ansa, 1 February). Bourgeois ideology demands that workers subordinate themselves to the capitalist rulers in a society where a small minority owns the means of production and exploits proletarian labor for private profit. The church attacks everything that might undermine the oppressive institution of the family. The origins of women’s oppression, the most ancient and deep-rooted form of subjugation in human society, are in the family, the basic economic unit to safeguard private property and the fundamental nucleus of class society, where women are relegated to giving birth, raising “legitimate” progeny, and, in general, to performing all those domestic services that the capitalist state doesn’t want to and cannot carry out. Women’s liberation through socialist revolution!
The hysterical crusade around the Englaro case coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Concordat (also known as the Lateran Pact) between the Italian state under Mussolini and the Catholic church in 1929. The Concordat integrated the Catholic church into the Italian state, allowing it to spread its tentacles into every state institution, from courts to schools and hospitals. The Lateran Pact is one of the pillars of the 1948 Italian Constitution, along with private property and the bourgeois state’s “democracy.” This Constitution sealed the betrayal of Togliatti’s Communist Party (PCI), which had politically and militarily disarmed the Italian proletariat between 1943-48 and derailed a potential proletarian revolution. The PCI entered an “anti-fascist” popular-front government with bourgeois forces and the Catholic church and helped put Italian capitalism back on its feet. Abolish the Concordat! For the separation of church and state! Expropriate all the Vatican’s wealth!
Over the course of the next 60 years, the PCI and its successors pushed class-collaborationist and popular-frontist betrayal at the expense of the proletariat. The leaders of the Democratic Party (a fusion between the Left Democrats and the bourgeois-Catholic Margherita [Daisy] party) all agree in opposing euthanasia, but they are divided over the currently proposed law. The Catholic fundamentalists sided with the Berlusconi government while the others pursue a “soft” Catholic line—they favor suspending use of feeding tubes only on the condition that this wish was expressed in a written living will and that doctors motivated by “conscientious objection” are allowed to refuse to carry out this wish. Even Rifondazione Comunista, which considers itself to be “the People of the Constitution,” has a long history of alliances with Catholic forces in national and local government, in particular with the anti-abortion Prodi [former Prime Minister]. Break with popular-front politics! Forge a revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist party as a tribune of the oppressed!
To cure the “cancer of Italy,” as revolutionary democrat Garibaldi called the Vatican, requires a proletarian revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie and the church and opens the road to a rational, socialist society, unshackling medicine and science from the profit system. Only when the huge resources and medical technology of this society are used to serve the masses, and not the profits of a few, will we be able to build a society free of racism and crippling, cruel religious superstition, a society that respects human dignity and worth. In his discourse “On Socialist Man,” Isaac Deutscher observed:
“May I remind you that Trotsky, for instance, speaks of three basic tragedies—hunger, sex, and death—besetting man. Hunger is the enemy that Marxism and the modern labor movement have taken on. In doing so they have naturally been inclined to ignore or belittle man’s other predicaments. But is it not true that hunger or, more broadly, social inequality and oppression, have hugely complicated and intensified for innumerable human beings the torments of sex and death as well?
“In fighting against social inequality and oppression we fight also for the mitigation of those blows that nature inflicts on us
“Yes, socialist man will still be pursued by sex and death; but we are convinced that he will be better equipped than we are to cope even with these.”