Italy’s constitutional court rejects right-to-die referendum

The Italian constitutional court blocked a referendum bid to decriminalise assisted suicide on Tuesday, judging that there were inadequate protections for the weakest.

A person in a medical coat holds hands with another
Italy's constitutional court rejects euthanasia referendum. Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Right-to-die advocates in Italy have been trying to force a referendum on the contentious issue in the largely Catholic country where opposition is strong, having gathered 750,000 signatures in August, well above the minimum required.

In announcing its decision, the court said in a press release the proposed referendum would not guarantee the constitutionally guaranteed “minimum protection of human life in general, particularly with reference to weak and vulnerable persons.”

READ ALSO: Italian euthanasia petition big enough to force referendum

Under current Italian law, anyone helping another person commit suicide can be jailed for between five and 12 years.

In 2019, the court called on parliament to clarify its law on assisted suicide, saying euthanasia could be permissible for those with an incurable illness causing “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering, who were being kept alive by life support measures.

Those patients, however, must remain capable of making “free and informed decisions”, it ruled.

Anyone who does not fall into this category has no current legal recourse to assisted suicide in the country.

Despite several high-profile cases in recent years, there remains strong opposition to assisted suicide in Italy, where the Catholic Church still holds major sway.

An Italian ethics committee in November allowed a tetraplegic man in his 40s to end his life through assisted dying, in the first approval of its kind.

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

Italy’s Constitutional Court made an exception for those facing an incurable illness causing “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering, where they are kept alive by life support treatments but remain capable of making “free and informed decisions”.

Following the rejected referendum, the heads of the Democratic Party and Five Star Movement – both within the coalition government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi – said it was now up to parliament to finally address the issue with a concrete law.

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Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.