Italy Poll Shows Majority Oppose Removing Welby From Respirator

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy Poll Shows Majority Oppose Removing Welby From Respirator Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 19
, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — A new poll for an Italian publication finds that a majority of residents of the European nation oppose removing Piergiorgio Welby form his respirator. Welby, who is afflicted with advanced muscular dystrophy, lost a legal bid this week to refuse lifesaving medical treatment so he can be spared from his medical condition.

The polling firm Swg conducted a survey for Donna Moderna, a newsweekly, finds that just 45 percent of Italians would remove Welby’s respirator while 54 percent said they couldn’t end his life by doing that.

Practicing Catholics in Italy, where the Catholic church leads the debate against euthanasia and assisted suicide, were much stronger in their views.

Some 68 percent of churchgoing Catholics said they didn’t support removing Welby’s respirator while 44 percent of nonpracticing Catholics couldn’t stop his treatment.

The poll found that 62 percent of Italians under the age of 25 would remove Welby’s treatment, perhaps showing that younger Italians are less influenced by the Catholic church’s pro-life views.

In his lawsuit, Welby, a 60 year-old man who is confined to a bed, says Italians should have the same ability to make medical decisions as people in other nations.

He 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 that way.

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 life 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.

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.