Campaign for legal euthanasia, assisted suicide takes step forward in Italy

Campaigners in Italy have passed the first hurdle in an effort to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Italy, where the criminal law says, “anyone who causes the death of a man, with his consent, is punished with imprisonment from six to fifteen years.”

Since April, pro-euthanasia activists have circulated a petition with the hope of bringing to vote a referendum to remove part of the law, which would effectively decriminalize assisted suicide for adults.

The Italian bishops’ conference has expressed “serious concern” about the petition, stating that “there is no expression of compassion in helping to die.”

Petition organizers said this week they have reached the minimum 500,000 signatures needed for parliament to choose whether to initiate the referendum.

A successful referendum on assisted suicide, activists say, would clear the way for a bill also legalizing euthanasia, though lawmakers in the Catholic-majority country are divided on the issue.

In a statement issued after an online meeting this week, Italy’s bishops said, “anyone who is in conditions of extreme suffering must be helped to manage pain, to overcome anguish and despair, not to eliminate their own life.”

Quoting Samaritanus Bonus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2020 letter on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life, they said: “the Magisterium of the Church recalls that, when one approaches the end of earthly exisstence, the dignity of the human person entails the right to die with the greatest possible serenity and with one’s proper human and Christian dignity intact.”

The document reaffirmed that euthanasia is an “intrinsically evil act.”

In their statement, the bishops said that “choosing death is the defeat of the human, the victory of an individualistic and nihilistic anthropological conception in which neither hope nor interpersonal relationships find more space.”

The referendum effort follows a 2019 ruling by an Italian court which decriminalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for patients who have an “irreversible” condition and are experiencing “intolerable suffering.”

The decision came after the court considered the case of Fabiano Antoniani, a DJ, who in 2017 died at the age of 40 at a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Antoniani had quadriplegia and was left blind after a serious car accident in 2014, and required assistance for eating and breathing.

Marco Cappato, an activist for euthanasia and assisted suicide, had been accused of assisting in Antoniani’s death when he accompanied him to Switzerland in 2017, but was effectively cleared by the court.

Another landmark “right-to-die” case was recently won in Italy.

A 43-year-old Italian man, paralyzed in a car accident 10 years ago, sued his local health service when they refused to evaluate if he met the conditions for assisted suicide as defined in the 2019 ruling.

On appeal, a civil court in Ancona ruled that the local health service’s ethics committee must evaluate the man’s eligibility for the procedure. The man, identified as Mario, has said he intends to travel to Switzerland with his family to carry out the act.

Organizers of the “Legal Euthansia” campaign said they have a goal of reaching 750,000 signatures on their referendum petition by the end of September.

More in Europe

In an interview with Vatican News Aug. 16, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia called euthanasia “a new form of eugenics.”

“This is a dangerous suggestion that poisons culture,” said the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“I am deeply concerned. It is essential that the Church remind everyone that fragility, fragility is a constitutive part of human nature and of the whole creation.”

Cappato publicly took issue with Archbishop Paglia’s comments, and called assisted suicide a “sacrosanct right to refuse the imposition of other people’s choices on one’s own body and life.”

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