Eluana Englaro, the comatose woman at the centre of a right-to-die debate in Italy, has died.
Senate Speaker Renato Schifani made the announcement during a heated parliament debate on a controversial government bill aimed at having a life support system reconnected to Englaro.
The 38-year-old Englaro died Monday night at an old persons' home in the northeastern city of Udine, four days after doctors, acting on a court order, disconnected tubes supplying her body with nutrients and water.
"We pray for her and ask forgiveness to the Lord for all they have done to her," the Vatican's top health affairs official, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.
The case of Englaro, who spent the last 17 years in a vegetative state after a car accident, has fuelled discussion in predominantly Catholic Italy over euthanasia and its legal technicalities.
In July 2008 Italy's top appeals court, the Cassation, upheld a ruling in favour of Englaro's father and legal guardian, Beppino, who had engaged in a more than decade-long legal battle for the right of his daughter to "die with dignity".
Following the announcement of Englaro's death, Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi said the government would press ahead with the bill, which had been drafted and tabled in parliament earlier Monday to overturn the Cassation ruling.
The bill specifies that people who are not able to communicate cannot be deprived of food and water.
But Sacconi, who in recent months had spearheaded attempts to block the father's attempts to find a medical facility willing to carry out the court order - including threatening disciplinary action against doctors - was more reconciliatory on Monday night.
"From our side, there has always been comprehension for the choices made by Eluana's father even if we did not share them," Sacconi said.
Elsewhere, however, tensions ran high over the issue which for days has received blanket media coverage in Italy.
On news of the death, outside the La Quiete old persons' home pro-life activists began chanting "Murderers!" at a group of Beppino Englaro's supporters.
Similar scenes occurred in parliament's upper-house, the Senate, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government and the centre-left opposition have been bitterly divided over the issue.
"Eluana did not die, she was killed," shouted Gaetano Quagliarello a senior lawmaker in Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, as he addressed the opposition.
"We are witnessing yet another attempt at political scavenging," retorted the centre-left Democratic Party Senate leader, Anna Finocchiaro. She also said her party, the largest in the opposition, would no longer participate in debate over the bill.
Berlusconi introduced the bill after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday refused to sign a government decree that would have immediately blocked attempts to terminate Englaro's life.