Italian Constitutional Court Legalises Euthanasia in ‘Extreme Cases’

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In a landmark case, the Italian Constitutional Court has made euthanasia (assisted dying) legal in extreme cases whereby the patient has ‘physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable.’

The subject of the case was popular Italian DJ, Fabiano Antoniani, who elected to travel to Switzerland and die at a euthanasia clinic in 2017 after a car crash in 2014 left him blind and quadriplegic. 

Antoniani required assistance eating and breathing and said in an audio message published on social media shortly before his death that he felt in constant ‘physical and mental pain.’ 

The main debate around euthanasia is the question of whether or not it is moral to help someone in ending their life.

The verdict has exacerbated long standing divisions in Italy, between those who support and argue against the legalisation of assisted dying. 

The Roman Catholic Church, who carry a lot of influence in the country, are outspoken critics against legalisation and expressed its ‘discontent’ at the court’s ruling. 

Indeed, just less than a week before the ruling, Pope Francis addressed an audience of health professionals at the Vatican, asking them to ‘reject the temptation’ as well as asking every doctor to ‘commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.’

However, Marco Cappato, an Italian euthanaisa activist and politician who facilitated Antoniani’s suicide, argued that it is immoral to force someone to continue to live when they are in pain and have a low quality of life, such was the case of Antoniani. 

Given the court’s verdict, Cappato will now likely no longer face a conviction which could have seen him imprisoned him for up to twelve years.

It is not just in Italy where the debate is raging. Former headteacher Richard Selley travelled to Switzerland this month to die in a euthanasia clinic.

“sometime soon people in my position will have the choice to have a peaceful death at a time of their choosing.”

Richard Selley

Selley, who suffered from motor neurone disease had written a letter to the Scottish parliament where he implored MSP’s to pass an assisted dying bill.

Shortly before travelling to Switzerland, Selley stated that he hoped members of the Scottish Parliament would “support an assisted dying Bill in the future,” and that “sometime soon people in my position will have the choice to have a peaceful death at a time of their choosing.”

The case of Fabiano Antoniani and the ruling of the Italian constitutional court appears to be a significant step on the road of legalising euthanasia. 

The move coming from predominantly Catholic country will likely add fuel to both sides of the debate ongoing around the world. 

Euthanasia is currently legal in six countries and six US states.

Charlie Lewis-Jones

Image: Pixabay