Ethics committee authorizes first assisted suicide in Italy

Male patient in hospital bed with heart rate monitor on his finger Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

The Catholic Church in Italy said that life must be “protected and defended” after local health authorities in Italy gave the green light to the country’s first legally obtained assisted suicide.

The ethics committee of the health service of the Italian city of Ancona ruled on Nov. 23 that a 43-year-old Italian man met the requirements of a 2019 law de-criminalizing assisted suicide in Italy under certain conditions.

It is now up to the Ancona court to decide whether the 43-year-old quadriplegic, identified only as Mario, can proceed with a medically assisted suicide in accord with his personal wishes.

Speaking after the decision, Fr. Massimo Angelelli, head of the Italian bishops’ health office, said: “Life is a received good, which must be protected and defended, in all its conditions.”

“Nobody can be called to be the bearer of the death of others. Human conscience prevents us from doing this,” he added.

Mario was paralyzed in a car accident 11 years ago. In 2020, he filed a lawsuit against the Ancona health service for refusing to evaluate whether he met the conditions for assisted suicide as defined in a ruling the year before.

The Italian court’s 2019 decision decriminalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for patients who have an “irreversible” condition and are experiencing “intolerable suffering.”

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

Mario won his lawsuit on appeal in July, with a civil court in Ancona, central Italy, ruling that the local ethics committee had to evaluate his eligibility for assisted suicide. The committee’s decision on Mario’s case was published on Tuesday.

In its decision, the Ancona ethics committee raised concerns about whether the drug he had requested, and the quantity specified, were medically proper. It also noted that how the drug would be administered had not been specified.

A legal representative for Mario said on Tuesday that they would provide, “in collaboration with an expert, the details of the methods of self-administration of the drug suitable for Mario, based on his conditions.”

The theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he was “hoping against hope that it remains possible [for Mario] to rethink the decision for death.”

“Whoever is deciding to put an end to his life can change his opinion and accept to live if he sees himself placed in a relationship of love,” Forte said. “Experienced in that relationship, even the pain that is no longer remedied by palliative medicine can become acceptable.”

The archbishop also pointed to statements by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “which has exhorted to ‘not minimize the seriousness of what Mario has experienced,’ together signaling that in no way should he be ‘encouraged to take his own life.’”

The Ancona ethics committee’s decision comes as Italy’s parliament considers whether to hold a referendum to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide after a petition gathered more than a million signatures this year.

A commission in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, is expected to review the referendum request on Nov. 29, after the discussion was postponed several times.

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