The President of the Italian Constitutional Court, Giuliano Amato The President of the Italian Constitutional Court, Giuliano Amato  (ANSA)

Italian bishops hail rejection of referendum bid on euthanasia

The Italian Bishops’ Conference welcomes the Constitutional Court’s decision to reject a petition calling for a referendum on the decriminalization of euthanasia. In a statement they reiterate Pope Francis’ recent words clearly condemning euthanasia and assisted suicide as an unacceptable deviation from medical ethics.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Italian Constitutional Court on Tuesday rejected as “inadmissible” a petition calling for a referendum on the decriminalisation of euthanasia. Its promoters had gathered 1,200,000 signatures, more than double the minimum 500,000 required.

Minimum constitutional standards

The proposed referendum question called for the abrogation of a clause in a 1930 law that punishes the “murder of a consenting person” with up to 15 years in jail. The referendum would have proposed the removal of penalties for those who assist in the suicide of patients who have incurable illnesses or suffer intolerable pain and have already had palliative care.

However, according to the 15 high judges,  repealing punishments in these cases would not safeguard the minimum constitutional standards governing the protection of human life in general, "particularly for the weak and the vulnerable.”

Protecting the most vulnerable

The Italian Bishops welcomed the Court's ruling, noting that it is also a reminder for “society as a whole” to support all efforts aimed at “overcoming or alleviating suffering or discomfort”. According to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), “more attention should be paid to people living in conditions of fragility and vulnerability who ask to be treated with dignity and accompanied with respect and love".

Recalling Pope Francis’s "clear words" on this issue at the General Audience of 9 February, the CEI statement reiterates  that “life is a right, not death, which must be accepted, not administered” and that “we must accompany people towards death, but not provoke death or facilitate any form of suicide”.


Debate over euthanasia in Italy

Debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide has come to the fore in Italy in recent years, with centre-left parties generally in favour of new legislation on end-of-life issues, and the centre-right opposed to it.

The Law on living wills

In  2017, the Italian Parliament passed a new Law on living wills, known as the Advance Healthcare Directives (“Disposizioni anticipate di trattamento” or “DAT). The new legislation does not legalize assisted suicide, but gives adults in their full mental capacity the possibility to leave written instructions regarding their preferences for medical treatment in case they are no longer able to make that choice at a given moment because of illness or mental incapacity.

The bill on assisted suicide

In 2019 the Constitutional Court advised that Parliament clarify the issue of assisted suicide in a new law, while indicating for some extreme cases conditions at which medical aid to suicide may not be punished.

The failure of lawmakers to agree on a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to seek assisted suicide through the Italian health system and protect doctors from any legal action has prompted advocates of euthanasia to opt for the referendum.

Listen to our report

Pro-life vs euthanasia supporters

Following Tuesday's ruling the “Luca Coscioni” right-to-die Association, a driving force behind the referendum bid,  pledged to continue its battle to legalise euthanasia, saying the Court's decision "makes the road longer and more complicated”.

Pro-life organizations, including the 'Popolo della Famiglia' (PDF), Pro vita & famiglia and the  Committee 'No all'Eutanasia Legale', on the other hand, hailed the Court’s ruling, remarking that it spurs the effective implementation of the Law on palliative care which was introduced in Italy in 2010. 

16 February 2022, 15:46