Italy Officials Say Piergiorgio Welby Not Receiving "Excessive Care"

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 20, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy Officials Say Piergiorgio Welby Not Receiving "Excessive Care"

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 20
, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — Italian officials, speaking days after Piergiorgio Welby lost his legal bid to be removed from his respirator and have his doctor help him kill himself, say he is not receiving "excessive care." The determination is the latest aspect of the debate that is having Italians intensely focus on issues like assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In evaluating Welby’s medical care, the 51-member higher health council (CSS) said his treatment, "in particular the artificial respirator that is keeping him alive, does not constitute excessive care."

The determination that life support doesn’t constitute "extraordinary means" of keeping a gravely or terminally ill person alive is not legally binding.

It’s seen as a blow to Welby, who is afflicted with advanced muscular dystrophy, has been on life support since 1997.

Judge Angela Savio ruled Saturday that, while Welby has a constitutional right to refuse treatment, Italian law does not permit the denial of lifesaving care. 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 CSS evaluation came at the request of health minister Livia Turco last week.

Turco told the ANSA Italian news agency that the court ruling disallowing Welby to be taken off life support confirmed "the need to urgently draw up regulations capable of clarifying the judicial framework of what we call sustaining life by artificial means."

Rome’s state prosecutors on Tuesday challenged the civic court’s decision though Welby has not yet decided if he will appeal the case.

Meanwhile, a Catholic church leader reaffirmed the church’s stance against euthanasia and spoke specifically to the case of removing a patient from life support.

"Is the sole purpose only to prolong the death throes?" of Welby," Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If the answer is yes, then you can remove the respirator. If the answer is no, then you cannot."

The cardinal added that Catholic teaching says food and water should never be withheld from patients.

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.