Italian PM expresses ‘doubts’ over assisted suicide

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has expressed reservations about a recent court decision decriminalising assisted suicide, in comments to the Corriere della Sera newspaper published Saturday.

Italian PM expresses 'doubts' over assisted suicide
Photo: AFP

Conte said that as a lawyer by training and a Catholic, while he had no doubt about the right to life, he was not so sure about the right to die.

He was speaking to the newspaper after the constitutional court ruled on Wednesday that assisted suicide could be lawful, despite a law forbidding it in Italy.

“To choose to be taken towards death and to ask help from personnel for that, who must be specialised — there some doubt is permitted,” said Conte.

“And if one did get to that, one would have to at least recognise a conscientious objection for anyone who did not feel capable (of taking part),” he added.

Wednesday's court ruling stressed that assisted suicide could only concern patients with incurable conditions who were being kept alive artificially and whose physical and psychological suffering was judged to be unbearable.

The patients concerned would also have to be fully capable of taking such a decision freely and consciously, the court added.

READ ALSO: 'Assisted suicide is not a crime', Italian court rules

The court also made it clear that its decision had been taken in the expectation that parliament would make the relevant changes to existing law.

Italy, which has a strong Catholic tradition, currently forbids euthanasia, and has laws punishing instigating or assisting suicide with up to 12 years in prison.

A number of European countries have laws permitting assisted suicide under strictly regulated conditions, but contentious cases still come before the courts.

Earlier this month in the Netherlands, the first country to legalise euthanasia, a court acquitted a doctor over the euthanasia of a woman with severe dementia.

The case attracted media attention due to details of how the unnamed patient was given a sedative in her coffee but nevertheless had to be restrained by her family as the now-retired doctor injected the euthanasia drug.

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‘Assisted suicide is not always a crime’: Italian court rules

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled it was not always a crime to help someone in "intolerable suffering" commit suicide, opening the way for a change of law in the Catholic country.

'Assisted suicide is not always a crime': Italian court rules
Photo: AFP

Parliament is now expected to debate the matter, which was highlighted by the Milan trial of an activist who helped a tetraplegic man die in Switzerland.

Anyone who “facilitates the suicidal intention… of a patient kept alive by life-support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology” should not be punished under certain conditions, the top court ruled.

The court was asked to weigh in on the case of Fabiano Antoniani, known as DJ Fabo, a music producer, traveller and motocross driver left tetraplegic and blind by a 2014 traffic accident.

Marco Cappato, a member of Italy's Radical Party, drove Antoniani to Switzerland in February 2017 where he was helped to die, aged 40.

Helping or instigating someone's suicide is currently punishable by between five and 12 years in prison in Italy.

– 'More free' –

Cappato hailed the ruling in a tweet: “Those who are in Fabo's condition have the right to be helped. From today we are all more free, even those who disagree. It is a victory of civil disobedience, while the (political) parties turned their heads away”.

The Italian Episcopal Conference expressed their “discontent and distance” from the court's decision, quoting Pope Francis who on Friday spoke out against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“We can and we must reject the temptation, which is also favoured by legislative changes, to use medicine to satisfy a sick person's possible wish to die,” the pope said.

The Italian bishops asked for lawmakers to “recognise these values” when debating the matter.

Beppino Englaro, the father of Eluana, who in 2008 was at the centre of a court battle to end her life in a vegetative state, hailed Cappato as “a pioneer who opened the way to establishing a right.”.

The court said that a patient's condition must be “causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable.”

Following approval of the decision by a local ethical committee, public health authorities should verify all conditions are met.

'Conscientious objection'

The head of the powerful Catholic Doctors Association (AMCI), Filippo Boscia, announced the “conscientious objection” of its members and slammed “a slide towards euthanasia and a violation of our professional code”.

Italy's Coscioni Association said that more than 800 Italians had said on their “SOS Euthanasia” website that they would like to die through assisted suicide.

Far-right leader Matteo Salvini, who strives to appeal to Catholic voters and frequently kisses his rosary at rallies, said he was “opposed to state-sponsored suicide imposed by the law”.

Left-wing MP Nicola Fratoianni tweeted: “After the ruling, there are no more alibis: parliament should be capable of making a law of freedom for those who ask for self-determination and dignity for their lives.”

The court had since Tuesday been re-examining the question of legalising assisted suicide after it gave parliament last October a one-year deadline to fill a legal void on the thorny issue, but MPs have not done so.

Dying 'without suffering'

“The current legal framework concerning the end of life deprives specific situations… of adequate protection,” the court wrote last year.

Cappato turned himself in to Italian authorities after his “act of civil disobedience” to highlight what he saw as an unjust law.

He pointed out that assisted suicide was reserved for those with the physical and financial means to travel to Switzerland, where it is legal.

“I feel like I'm in a cage. I would like to choose to die without suffering,” Antoniani wrote to Italian President Sergio Mattarella before his death in Switzerland.

A Milan court is trying Cappato on the charge of “instigating or assisting suicide”, but asked the Constitutional Court to clarify the current law. He is likely to be acquitted following the Constitutional Court's decision.