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An Italian man who spent two years supposedly unconscious in a deep coma, written off by doctors as nearly dead, awoke saying he heard and understood everything happening around him during the long ordeal, his family said.

Salvatore Crisafulli, a father of four, is describing his case as a "miracle" that proves that lost causes are anything but hopeless, and his recovery appeared to strengthen the hand of Italians opposed to end-of-life solutions.

Even though the case is not medically comparable, his brother called Mr. Crisafulli "an Italian Terri Schiavo case," with reference to the brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March after her feeding tube was removed.

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"The doctors said that I wasn't conscious, but I understood everything and I cried in desperation," Mr. Crisafulli was quoted as saying in the Italian media yesterday.

The comments were relayed through his brother, Pietro, in Sicily as Mr. Crisafulli, 38, slowly began to recover.

He emerged from the coma, caused by a 2003 road accident, three months ago but only began speaking recently.

News of his recovery hit Italy at about the same time as a national bioethics committee defended obligatory care for unconscious patients -- even those who opposed extraordinary medical measures to keep them alive.

The government committee, which acts as a reference point for lawmakers, voted in favour of the stand late last month, but the position paper is still being completed.

"To feed an unconscious patient through a tube is not a medical act," said the committee's president, Francesco D'Agostino, in reported comments confirmed by his office.

"It's like giving a bottle to a newborn baby who can't be nursed by its mother. . . . And then we reflect on the Schiavo case. The woman was left to die of starvation."

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Doctors say Ms. Schiavo was not in a coma but in a persistent vegetative state, a different medical condition.

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