Italy’s Constitutional Court rejects euthanasia referendum 

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

In September 2019, the Italian Constitutional Court opened the door to assisted suicide.

The ruling appeared to limit the extent of the decision to people being kept alive on life-support but further reading suggests that the decision was much wider. A Guardian article stated:

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 ethics committee, public health authorities should verify all conditions are met.

Since the court used the same language– “causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable” –the decision extended assisted suicide to a wider group of people.

In July 2020, an Italian court acquitted assisted suicide activists Marco Cappato and Mina Welby in the assisted suicide death of Davide Trentini in the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic death in Switzerland. The judgement did not directly challenge the law but decided that Caputo and Welby did not break the law because they did not “incite” the act. Based on this decision, the Italian law continues to apply to physicians who would incite the act.

Caputo then organized a referendum petition on euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, on February 16, Italy’s Constitutional Court rejected the referendum on euthanasia as reported by EuroNews:

Italy’s Constitutional Court has rejected a petition to hold a referendum on euthanasia and legally-assisted suicide.

The court said a proposed vote on the matter would not sufficiently protect “weak and vulnerable” people and would therefore violate the constitution.

A petition for a referendum on the right to die had collected more than 750,000 signatures last August, well above the threshold required to trigger a vote.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is pleased by this decision. However we recognize that a previous court decision approved assisted suicide; the Italian government will be debating legalization to legalize euthanasia.

Sadly, in November 2021, an ethics committee in the central Italian region of Marche approved the first assisted suicide death, a man with quadriplegia known as Mario, based on the 2019 court decision.

EPC is particularly concerned that the 2019 court decision discriminates against people with disabilities who can now be abandoned to death.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg blog and is reposted with permission.

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