460 Italians sought 'right to die' in 2013

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A Dignitas "right to die" clinic in Basel, Switzerland. Sebastien Derungs/AFP
12:41 CET+01:00
UPDATED: Some 460 Italians, who were either terminally sick or suffering from debilitating illnesses, tried to end their lives at “right to die” clinics in Switzerland last year, the coordinator of Italy’s Euthanasia Law campaign told The Local.

But despite a growing number of Italians seeking assisted suicide, Matteo Mainardi said only fifty have succeeded in ending their lives in Switzerland over the last three years, while 27 are on the waiting list.

Eleven of those waiting are under the age of 30 and suffer from acute psychological illness.

Many of those who are not accepted by the clinics commit suicide: in 2010 alone, 1,048 suicides in Italy were by people suffering from long-term or teminal illness - 46 percent of the total number of suicides in the country that year, Mainardi added.

Others are assisted to die by “compassionate and brave doctors”, who risk up to 14 years in prison if found out.

“Most of the requests made to clinics in Switzerland are turned down, the rules are very rigid,” Mainardi said.

“So many people do it by themselves. Doctors who help tend to be retired.”

The Euthanasia Law campaign, which advocates introducing a right-to-die law in Italy, has been revived in the last few days as a result of the global debate surrounding 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, an American brain cancer sufferer who chose to end her life on Saturday.

The Italian campaign is sponsored by the Luca Coscioni Association, a scientific research assocation.

Mainardi said the association receives "dozens of calls" each week from people inquiring about assisted suicide.

The group submitted a petition, with some 70,000 signatures, to parliament last September, but the issue is yet to be tabled for debate.

But any move towards implementing legislation is likely to be fiercely opposed by Catholic groups, which maintain that suicide is a form of sin.

A senior Vatican official on Tuesday condemned Maynard's assisted suicide as "wicked". Maynard took a cocktail of fatal drugs legally provided by her doctors in the US state of Portland, where she had moved with her husband after being given six months to live in January.

"We do not judge the individuals but the act itself is to be condemned," Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the bishop who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, a semi-autonomous Church think-tank which studies ethical issues, told the news agency Ansa.

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"This woman did this thinking she could die with dignity. But this is where the error lies: to commit suicide is not a good thing, it is a wicked thing because it is saying no both to one's own life and to everything which signifies respect for our mission in this world and towards those closest to us."

Though euthanasia is prohibited in Switzerland, assisted suicide is legal even if the person requesting it is not terminally ill.

The person seeking to die must be involved in administering the lethal drug, while a physician’s role is limited to assessing their decisional capacity and prescribing the drug.

The law has led to a boom in so-called "suicide tourism", with those who succeed in ending their lives in Switzerland paying between €7,000 and €10,000.

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