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Thursday, December 21, 2006


A Bouquet for Dr. Mario Riccio

Piergeorgio Welby

A courageous physician named Mario Riccio made the decision to turn off the life support system and made it possible for Piergeorgio Welby to die as he expressly wanted. Mr. Welby's case received a lot of publicity because of his appeal to disconnect the life support system was rejected last week by an Italian Court.

The action by Dr. Riccio was not an unusual one. There are physicians who make such decisions every day but they do so quietly and not all terminally ill patients who do not wish to live hooked up to respirators and being force-fed are fortunate to be under care of such doctors.

Full report from the BBC:

An Italian doctor has said he has switched off the life support system of a terminally ill man, who lost a legal battle for the right to die.

Dr Mario Riccio, who disconnected the respirator, said he had fulfilled the patient's legal right to refuse treatment. He denied it was euthanasia.

Piergiorgio Welby, 60, was paralysed by muscular dystrophy.

His plea for euthanasia - illegal in mainly Roman Catholic Italy - sparked a landmark court case and fierce debate.

Doctor's argument

"In Italian hospitals therapies are suspended all the time, and this does not lead to any intervention from magistrates or to problems of conscience," Dr Riccio told reporters, following Mr Welby's death late on Wednesday.

"This must not be mistaken for euthanasia. It is a suspension of therapies," he told a news conference in Rome. "Refusing treatment is a right."

Mr Welby had been attached to a respirator for the last six months and a feeding tube to keep him alive.

He had communicated through a computer that read his eye movements.

He had asked his family, his doctors and the courts to be allowed to die as he had suffered for many years from muscular dystrophy and his condition had worsened.

A judge ruled on Saturday that while Mr Welby had the constitutional right to have his life support machine switched off, doctors would be legally obliged to resuscitate him.

Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide have been legalised in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, but remain illegal in much of the rest of the world.

In September, Mr Welby had written to the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano pleading to be allowed to die.

Italy's Health Minister, Livia Turco, has called for new legislation to clarify the legal position on exactly which aggressive measures are licit in order to sustain life in cases like that of Mr Welby, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

The Vatican teaches that life must be safeguarded from its beginning to its natural end.

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