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Italy: Assisted suicide referendum blocked by Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court in Italy has blocked a referendum seeking to make assisted suicide legal because it would remove protections for the weak and the vulnerable.

On 15 February, the Constitutional Court said it “deemed the referendum question inadmissible” because if the referendum were to remove the current criminal law on assisted suicide, “the constitutionally necessary minimum protection of human life, in general, and with particular reference to weak and vulnerable persons, would not be preserved”.

Supporters of assisted suicide submitted a petition to the Italian court requesting a referendum in October 2021, however, it was denied.

Currently, in Italy, both assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal and if someone helps another to end their life by suicide, they could face up to 15 years in prison. However, a bill to legalise assisted suicide, known in Italian legislation as “homicide of the consenting”, is expected to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Italy’s parliament.

Assisted suicide remains a divisive issue among Italian political parties with the centre-left parties generally approving it and the centre-right wanting to keep legal protections for the vulnerable who they see as being at particular risk from assisted suicide legislation.

In the UK where assisted suicide is also being debated in the House of Lords, palliative care doctors are concerned that the public is being “scared” into supporting assisted suicide by an excessive focus in the media on cases of suffering at the end of life, while coverage of well-delivered palliative care is ignored.

A survey of almost 300 members of the Association of Palliative Medicine (APM) showed that a large majority of doctors working in palliative care believe there is not enough coverage of “good deaths” in the media and that there “is a high degree of patient and family misconception of palliative care, which may be exacerbated by public discussion of assisted suicide/euthanasia”.

The survey revealed that 87% “felt there has not been enough press coverage of good deaths”.

A 2020 British Medical Association (BMA) survey showed that 84% of doctors in palliative medicine would not be willing to perform euthanasia on a patient should the law ever change.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Legislation in favour of assisted suicide is legislation in favour of removing legal protections for the sick and vulnerable in our society. Legislation against assisted suicide exists, in part, to protect each of us, especially when we are vulnerable. Those who are supporting assisted suicide in Italy and the UK are seeking to remove this legal protection precisely from those who most need it”.

“The Constitutional Court in Italy is right to reject this call for a referendum. A country should not be able to remove the fundamental rights of its citizens by popular vote”.

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