On Monday a 38-year-old woman who ignited a fierce right-to-die debate that convulsed Italy and dragged in the Vatican died after spending 17 years in a vegetative state.

She died as Lawmakers in Parliament rushed to pass a bill designed to keep her alive. Eluana Englaro died Monday night at the Udine clinic where she had been for the past week, said family attorney Vittorio Angiolini, the Associated Press reported.

Yes, she has left us, the ANSA news agency quoted her father, Beppino Englaro, as saying. But I don't want to say anything; I just want to be alone.

Following her accident, Englaro's doctors had said her condition was irreversible.

Late last year, her father won a decade-long court battle to allow her feeding tube to be removed, saying that was her wish. In line with the high court ruling, medical workers on Friday began suspending her food and water.

Italy's center-right government, backed by the Vatican, had however pressed to keep her alive, racing against time to pass legislation prohibiting food and water from being suspended for patients who depend on them.

Senators who had just begun debating the bill observed a minute of silence Monday night when the news of her death was read out in the Senate chamber.

Even though the new legislation will be too late to save Englaro, government officials have vowed to pass it.

Englaro's case bitterly divided Italy, with proponents on both sides of the right-to-die debate staging daily demonstrations outside the Udine clinic in northeast Italy and politicians hurling insults against each other.

In the past week Pope Benedict XVI spoke out several times about the dignity of every human life.

Italy does not allow euthanasia but patients have a right to refuse treatment. There is no law, however, that allows patients to give advance directions on what treatment they want if they become too incapacitated to state their wishes.

According to records from the clinic, ANSA said Englaro died of cardiac arrest, the AP reported.