Italy President Calls for Euthanasia Debate, Catholic Church Opposed

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 26, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy President Calls for Euthanasia Debate, Catholic Church Opposed Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 26
, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has sparked controversy by calling for the European nation’s parliament to debate the subject of euthanasia. His calls comes after he received a letter from a terminally ill man who wants the nation to legalize mercy killing so he can be spared from his condition.

Piergiorgio Welby, a 60 year-old man who is afflicted with advanced muscular dystrophy, wrote to Napolitano saying that Italians should have the same access to euthanasia and assisted suicide that residents of Switzerland, Holland and Belgium do.

"When a terminally ill person decides to give up those he loves, his friends and life itself, and asks to be able to end a cruelly biological survival, I believe that will should be respected," Welby wrote, according to the ANSA news agency.

Napolitano said he was "deeply moved" and "touched" by the letter.

"The only unjustifiable response would be silence," he told ANSA.

But, the call for a euthanasia debate drew strong condemnation from some lawmakers and the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, called euthanasia tantamount to assassination. He said "euthanasia amounts to murder, it’s as simple as that, and therefore it can never be allowed."

Barragan said that Catholic MPs would be under a "moral obligation" to oppose any efforts to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide.

He also said that more should be done to provide palliative care for such patients like Welby rather than authorizing doctors to kill patients.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, a member of the center-left Catholic Daisy party, agreed and said "we are against euthanasia — the center left is against euthanasia."

Health Minister Livia Turco, a member of the Democratic Left who has come under fire for promoting the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug and embryonic stem cell research, also said she opposes euthanasia.

Forza Italia, the party of opposition chief and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, also opposes any efforts to legalize the grisly practice and said in a statement to ANSA that a debate would mean "splitting the country in two without obtaining any positive results."

Former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini, who heads the rightist National Alliance (AN), said that "laws which allow people to kill themselves are unacceptable and should be that way for everyone, not just Catholics."