The row over the fate of one 37-year-old woman is expected to rage in Italy long after her death.
For the past 16 years, Eluana Englaro has lain in a hospital bed in a coma following a car crash.
Now her family has won a decade-long battle in the courts to remove her feeding tube and let her die.
The Vatican insists it is euthanasia. Others disagree.
Stefano Rodota, Professor of Civic Law at the University of Rome, said: “The judges did not hand down a death sentence; they did not introduce euthanasia. They simply agreed to the interruption of nursing. This was in line with the will Eluana had made clear before her tragic accident. Her parents wanted her will respected.”
It is the first time a court in predominantly Catholic Italy has allowed the withdrawal of food and water from a comatose patient. But euthanasia remains illegal in Italy.
Many politicians support that position. Luca Volonte of the Union of Christian Democrats said the court had just authorised the first “murder by the state.”