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Italy’s highest court decriminalises assisted dying for the incurably suffering

Italy’s constitutional court has ruled that assisting a person who is in a state of intolerable and irreversible suffering to end their life is not always a crime, in a landmark judgment that could see Italy legalise assisted dying.

The judgment, handed down yesterday, follows an appeal by right-to-die activist Marco Cappato who admitted to helping Italian celebrity, Fabiano Antoniani (known as DJ Fabio), to die in Switzerland in 2017, after he had become quadriplegic and blind from a car accident in 2014.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and incurably suffering, has welcomed the decision. Humanists UK is supporting Paul Lamb in his bid to change the law on assisted dying in the UK.

Last year, Italy’s highest court suspended judgment in Cappato’s case, and instructed Parliament to resolve the issue of assisted dying within a year. Prior to the court’s decision this week, assisted dying had been illegal and those found guilty could face between five and twelve years’ imprisonment.

In the court’s statement, it said that following the inaction of Italy’s Parliament, people should no longer always be punished for helping the ‘autonomous and freely formed [wish]’ of a patient to die, and anyone who ‘facilitates the suicidal intention… of a patient kept alive by life-support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology should not be punished under certain conditions’. These include an ‘irreversible [condition, causing] physical or psychological suffering that he [or she] considers intolerable’, and a requirement that the patient be ‘fully capable of making free and conscious decisions’.

Italy is now the sixth country where assisted dying is permitted for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, alongside countries such as Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands, and assisted dying is legal for terminally ill people in ten US jurisdictions, Colombia, and the Australian state of Victoria.

The court’s ruling will now be debated in Italy’s parliament, who have the option of introducing different legislation, and Marco Cappato is expected to be acquitted by a lower court when his sentence is later determined.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said,

‘We welcome this news as yet another example of the growing international consensus towards legalising a safeguarded right-to-die law for both those who are terminally ill and those facing incurably suffering. Nearly 90% of the public now agree that the right to choose how we die should be seen as a fundamental human right in the UK, and we are supporting Paul Lamb’s legal case to help make it a reality.

‘Just as compassion for ending the suffering of others has motivated people to support assisted dying for those who are terminally ill, so too should it for those who are incurably suffering like Paul.’

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our previous news item on Paul Lamb’s legal case.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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