Italy Court Denies Patient’s Lawsuit to Legalize Euthanasia There

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 18, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy Court Denies Patient’s Lawsuit to Legalize Euthanasia There Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 18
, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — An Italian court has denied the request from a terminally ill man who wants to legalize mercy killing or euthanasia so he can be spared from his medical 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.

Salvio denied Welby’s request to have his life support shut off saying that Italian law does not permit doctors to end the lives of patients via mercy killing.

The judge said the Italian parliament would have to change the nation’s law to legalize assisted suicide for the request to be granted.

Judge Angela Salvio ruled that Welby has a constitutional right to determine his own medical treatment but noted that Italian law requires doctors to maintain a patient’s law and not engage in actions leading to their death.

Physicians "even when faced with the request of the patient, must not carry out … treatments aimed at causing death," Judge Salvio wrote.

Marco Cappato, a member of the Radical Party, which is pushing in parliament for legalized assisted suicide, told the Associated Press that Welby supporters "will have to decide how to act to protect his wishes."

He said lawyers for Welby and pro-euthanasia groups were looking for other ways to help him stop getting medical treatment.

Sen. Rocco Buttiglione, a center-right opposition leader, told the AP he applauded the ruling and said the judge was interpreting "law and conscience. No one can order someone to kill."

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

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.