Italy Court Hears Arguments in Patient’s Case to Legalize Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 12, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy Court Hears Arguments in Patient’s Case to Legalize Euthanasia Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 12
, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — An Italian court held a hearing today on a the case of a terminally ill man who wants to legalize mercy killing so he can be spared from his condition. Piergiorgio Welby, who is afflicted with advanced muscular dystrophy, says Italians should have the same access to assisted suicide as people in other nations.

Welby, a 60 year-old man who is confined to a bed, told Judge Angela Salvio wants to be taken off a respirator and sedated before a doctor helps him take his life.

He has been breathing artificially for the last six months and receives nutrition through a feeding tube.

Salvio is expected to issue a ruling in the case next week, Marco Cappato, a leader of a patient advocacy group, told AP.

Rome prosecutors said late Monday that doctors should not be allowed to kill Welby saying that they should monitor him and provide treatment for pain or depression.

Welby’s name made headlines in late September when Italian President Giorgio Napolitano sparked controversy by calling for the European nation’s parliament to debate the subject of euthanasia.

Welby wrote a letter saying he wants to "end a cruelly biological survival." Napolitano said he was "deeply moved" and "touched" by the missive, which was published in media reports.

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."

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."

The Netherlands was the first nation to legalize assisted suicide in 2001 and Switzerland followed in 2002. Switzerland also looks the other way as euthanasia groups operate numerous apartments where foreigners are killed.

Oregon voters approved assisted suicide in 1994 and the law went into effect in 1997.