Italians divided over mother's sacrifice

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SOME HOLD her to be a saint, others irresponsible: Italians are hotly debating the case of Carla Ardenghi, the mother who chose to die to save her baby.

Mrs Ardenghi, 28, became seriously ill with a malignant cancer when she was pregnant with her second child. But she refused an abortion, chemotherapy or any treatment which could have prolonged her life so as to give birth to a healthy child. On Monday, as she grew more critically ill, her son, Stefano, was delivered by Caesarian section, three months premature. A few hours later Carla died.

She left a widower, Valerio, a carpenter, who had reluctantly agreed with her decision, and another son, Riccardo, 10. The baby, Stefano, weighs only 23 ounces and is given only slender chances of survival.

Carla Ardenghi loved life and although she went to church regularly she was not particularly pious. The Catholic Church, even though it permits the death of the foetus if it is the indirect and unintentional result of efforts to save the mother's life, praised her sacrifice warmly.

'She could be beatified,' said the Bishop of nearby Lecco, Monsignor Francesco Ruppi. 'A case of sainthood, whether lay or Christian, a heroic gesture,' said Carlo Casini, leader of the pro-life movement. 'Sacrificing her own life she gave meaning not only to that of her son but to all of us,' said the Vatican daily, L'Osservatore Romano, which put the story on its front page.

As it happens another woman from Bergamo, Gianna Beretta, who died after refusing a life-saving abortion 30 years ago, is about to be beatified.

Some prominent non-Catholics also praised Carla's decision. 'I can only respect and admire her,' said the actress Franca Rame. 'It was a romantic, courageous, beautiful gesture,' said the actress Dalila di Lazzaro. 'I would have done the same.'

But others, especially feminists, were appalled. 'Once again they are trying to inculcate into women's minds the idea that the only value for a woman is motherhood,' said Ida Magli, a leading anthropologist.