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Italian Constitutional Court: assisted suicide under certain conditions not punishable

Friday, September 27, 2019

On Wednesday September 25, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that assisted dying is not punishable when the person who wants to die is fully capable of taking free and informed decisions and already determined to take his/her own life, when this person suffers intolerably from an irreversible pathology and is kept alive by life-sustaining treatment.


The Italian Constitutional Court was asked to decide about the constitutional legitimacy of article 580 of the Italian Criminal Code, the article that prohibits assisted suicide. The questions came from the Milan Court of Assizes that has to decide in the court case against Marco Cappato, a right-to-die activist and one of Luca Coscioni's directors. This trial has not ended yet, but with the declaration of the Constitutional Court this case will likely turn out positive for him. 


Marco Cappato  
Cappato was accused of having assisted in the suicide of the 40-year-old DJ Fabo who was left a tetraplegic after a horrific car accident in 2014. Cappato assisted the Dj to travel to Switzerland to obtain assisted suicide there. For more information, see our earlier items on this site.   

 

Law? 
In 2018 the Constitutional Court already observed that the current regulatory framework leaves a citizen without adequate protection regarding to the end of life and is not balanced with constitutionally relevant rights. The Court then decided to postpone the case with a year, in order to allow Parliament to intervene with appropriate legislation. However, that was not a priority for the previous government between Lega and Five Stars, which recently fell. Politicians avoid the theme, which is explosive in Italy, a country where the church still exerts great influence.

In the run-up to the judgment, Pope Francis expressed his aversion to euthanasia. After the decision of the Constitutional Court, the Italian Bishops' Conference also reacted disappointedly: "We have no right to do so. It cannot depend on our will. " After the decision, an association of Catholic doctors said they would not abide by the court’s decision and would fight "a slide towards euthanasia and a violation of our professional code".


The court’s decision divided politics. It was supported by members of the centre-Left Democratic Party, who together with the populist Five Star Movement formed a new coalition last month. Andrea Marcucci, a Democrat senator, said the “ping pong” debate that had gone on for years between society and the Catholic Church should now be laid to rest, and called on parliament to pass a new law.

But Matteo Salvini, the leader of the radical right-wing party, who attracts Catholic voters by regularly kissing paternosters, said he is "against state-promoted suicide imposed by law." He said he would never agree to "suicide by law". Simone Pillon, a senator from this party, was highly critical of the judgment, saying that patients should be given all possible palliative care but should not be allowed to end their own lives. “Human life is sacred and inviolable,” he said. The decision of the court’s judges would “weigh on their consciences for life,” he said. 

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